Activists must leave children out of politics
WE are certain that the children that were paraded by Partson Dzamara and his opposition colleagues in a demonstration in Harare on Wednesday did not grant their informed consent to participate in the activity. They thought they were simply walking on a street along with their friends and relatives, clearly unaware of the significance of the walk. They didn’t know that they were actually being abused to advance a political agenda that has nothing to do with them. To many of them, some as young as four, the cupcakes they were holding were more important and were actually itching to have a bite, not to hand them over to watching police officers.
It is said that the march was organised to mark the disappearance of Dzamara’s brother, Itai, last year and celebrate his birthday. Itai’s family was part of the event, including his wife Sheffra.
To eliminate the possibility of a police response, they were led by the kids. It is for this reason that we find Dzamara’s protest extremely distasteful. Children are innocent. They do not have political minds yet, thus must not be conscripted into potentially hazardous activities like political demonstrations. What he did is illegal, immoral, abusive, insidious, provocative and dangerous.
The action violates domestic and international law that seeks to protect the welfare of children and forbids their use as human shields as Dzamara himself intimated. He is quoted in private newspapers saying they decided to have the children participating knowing that police would not disperse the unsanctioned procession.
But the Government has condemned him, as have many lawyers.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira said by forcing children to participate in the illegal demonstration, the opposition activists violated 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).
“The use of children in the protest,” said Minister Mupfumira, “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. and morality prohibits the use of children for adult gain.
“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.”
Harare lawyer Mr Terrence Hussein, said: “Anything that revolves around children, the best interest of the child must always prevail. 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 cannons?”
Indeed we too denounce Dzamara and his colleagues for abusing those kids. We remind them of their constitutional obligations to always promote the interests of children and protect them from potentially dangerous circumstances.
It was very irresponsible of him to enlist children to be accessories in an opposition fight against the Government. It was going to be a damaging international story if the police had broken up the demonstration, even though it was illegal. The Government was going to be attacked for violating children’s rights yet the persons who actually violated them were Dzamara, Jestina Mukoko and others who used them as human shields, unwitting tools in a political campaign against the Government.
Therefore, we praise the police at the scene for only watching the mischief unfold and turning away as the children, who had clearly been coached beforehand, knelt down and attempted to hand the cupcakes to the officers. A people’s police force puts the rights of citizens first including minors such as these who were forced to participate in the opposition demonstration.