Protestors slammed for using kids as human shields
THE Government has castigated political activists and opposition parties for using children as human shields in their illegal demonstrations, saying the move was a gross violation of regional and international legal instruments that regulates the care and protection of minors.
This follows the illogical parading of children on the front-line by opposition activists led by one Partson Dzamara and his brother’s wife, Sheffra, who were “protesting” the alleged disappearance of MDC-T activist Itai Dzamara at the Africa Unity Square on Wednesday.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira yesterday said by coercing children to participate in the illegal demonstration, the activists should be charged for violating the country’s Constitution, the United Nations Convention on the Rights and Welfare of Children (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children (ACRWC).
Legal experts weighed in saying police should put the organisers of the demonstration to task for putting the lives of the innocent children at risk.
They said it was clear that the innocent children were being abused and not aware of the social and civic implications of the act.
Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi said they were investigating the activists’ “dirty tactics.”
Minister Mupfumira said the participation of children in any protest was against the best interests of the child and had long term physical and psychological repercussions on the minors.
“As such, the State has a responsibility to ensure that children’s rights are safeguarded,” she said.
“The use of children in the protest violates Article 36 of the UNCRC, which provides for the protection of children from any form of exploitation, which includes being taken advantage of; in this case it is clear that the organisers of this protest took advantage of these children to get a sympathetic ear. Ubuntu and morality prohibits the use of children for adult gain.”
Minister Mupfumira added: “Article 15 of the UNCRC as well as Article 8 of the ACRWC outlines that every child has the right to free association and peaceful assembly in conformity with the law and in this case the engagement of children in a protest is not in conformity with the law. Section 81 (1) (g) of the Zimbabwe Constitution provides that ‘Every child . . . has a right not to be compelled to take part in any political activity’. It is doubtful if these children on their own volition volunteered to be part and parcel of this protest.”
Most of the activists who participated in the Wednesday illegal protests are those behind last weeks’ failed demonstrations that were aimed at toppling the Government.
Said Chief Supt Nyathi: “The law is very clear. It is illegal for anyone to use children as shields in a demonstration. As police, we are conducting investigations into this incident.”
Harare lawyer Mr Terrence Hussein said Africa Unity Square, for now, was not an environment for children.
“Anything that revolves around children, the best interest of the child must always prevail,” he said.
“If seen that the best interests are being compromised or exposed to danger, then the law usually intervenes on their behalf. Usually it is done through the Children’s Court or the High Court. The High Court is the upper guardian of all children in Zimbabwe. You can sometimes find that the High Court can override the decisions of the parents in situations where it is shown that the parents are not acting properly on behalf of the children. The issue here is in a situation where there is a demonstration or a protest, why would one put minors on the frontline? What if there was a riotous incident which involves teargas or high powered water canons?”
Another lawyer Mr Tendai Toto said what the protestors did was illegal.
“Putting the law into perspective and the rights of the children in particular the United Nations Convection on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act of Zimbabwe and the Constitution of Zimbabwe that have a wider and compelling provisions that protect children’s rights, the involvement of innocent children who do not know and appreciate the social and civic implications is wrongful and an infringement of child rights,” he said.
“The conduct of involving these children and demonstrations of this nature, no matter how peaceful it can be, undoubtedly escalates traumatic experiences. Not everyone who participates in these demonstrations will share the same peaceful cause of the protests. Passerby citizens can incite violence turning the demonstrations into violent ones. This exposes these children to permanent, psychological and physical harm.”
Most of the illegal protests carried out by the activists end violently as they usually stone police officers in the process.
The Israeli army came underfire from rights groups around the world when, during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week bombardment of the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009, Israeli soldiers used an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield, forcing him to walk in front of them at gunpoint and enter potentially boobytrapped buildings to check for explosives.
Children shield protestors during a recent demonstration in Harare