Ac­tivists must leave chil­dren out of pol­i­tics

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

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.

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