Pro­tes­tors slammed for us­ing kids as hu­man shields

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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

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