‘Act on child is­sues now’

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - DAY OF THE AFRICAN CHILD - Tanzikwa Gu­ra­nungo

THE is­sue of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment for chil­dren in Africa con­tinue to stick out like a sore thumb.

Most chil­dren in Africa face a myr­iad of prob­lems such as abuse, early mar­riages, drug abuse, forced labour, traf­fick­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion.

Iron­i­cally, Zim­babwe last week joined Africa in com­mem­o­rat­ing the Day of the African Child un­der the theme “Ac­cel­er­at­ing pro­tec­tion, em­pow­er­ment and equal op­por­tu­ni­ties to­wards ful­fill­ing agenda 2030 for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment for chil­dren in Africa”.

This year’s com­mem­o­ra­tions also marked the sil­ver ju­bilee of the ju­nior par­lia­ment whose open­ing co­in­cides with the Day of African Child.

The theme has a lot of bear­ing in most African coun­tries, which are fail­ing to ful­fil sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment for chil­dren.

Zim­babwe and most African coun­tries are sig­na­to­ries to in­stru­ments that pro­tect the girl child.

These in­clude the African Char­ter on the Rights and Wel­fare of the Child which was adopted by the African Union in 1990 and en­forced in 1991.

The Char­ter covers civil, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, so­cial and cul­tural rights of chil­dren.

Ar­ti­cle 21 of the African Char­ter on the Rights and Wel­fare of the Child makes spe­cific ref­er­ences to harm­ful so­cial and cul­tural prac­tices.

It states that mem­ber coun­tries shall take all ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures to elim­i­nate harm­ful so­cial and cul­tural prac­tices af­fect­ing the wel­fare, dig­nity, nor­mal growth and de­vel­op­ment of the child.

It fur­ther states that child mar­riages shall be pro­hib­ited and ef­fec­tive ac­tion, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion, shall be taken to spec­ify the min­i­mum age of mar­riage as 18 and make reg­is­tra­tion of all mar­riages in an of­fi­cial reg­istry com­pul­sory.

But in Zim­babwe, we still hear and see young girls be­ing mar­ried be­fore they reach the age of con­sent with those be­hind such acts roming freely.

Young girls are drop­ping out of school be­cause of early mar­riages.

The coun­try has laws such as the Chil­dren’s Act (Chap­ter 5:06), the Crim­i­nal Law (Cod­i­fi­ca­tion and Re­form) Act Chap­ter 9:23 and the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act (Chap­ter 5:16) which deal, in one way or the other, with the rights and wel­fare of chil­dren.

In ad­di­tion, the Con­sti­tu­tion of Zim­babwe also pro­vides for the pro­tec­tion of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights and free­doms for all Zim­bab­wean, chil­dren in­cluded.

On the in­ter­na­tional arena, Zim­babwe is party to a num­ber of in­stru­ments that pro­tects the rights of chil­dren.

There­fore, the Con­sti­tu­tion of Zim­babwe should be read in con­junc­tion with the fol­low­ing:

◆ United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child and its Op­tional Pro­to­col on the sale of chil­dren.

◆ Child pros­ti­tu­tion and Child Pornog­ra­phy, the African Char­ter on the rights and Wel­fare of the Child

◆ Con­ven­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of all forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion against Women. In or­der ful­fil the 2030 agenda for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment for chil­dren in Africa, there is need to har­mo­nize laws with the na­tional Con­sti­tu­tion in or­der to make it easy to pros­e­cute of­fend­ers.

The Con­sti­tu­tion de­fines chil­dren as per­sons be­low the age of 18 years.

How­ever, the Cus­tom­ary Act makes it dif­fi­cult to han­dle child mar­riages.

The is­sues of child pros­ti­tu­tion haunts Africa and the world.

Glob­ally, it is es­ti­mated that about 10 mil­lion chil­dren un­der the age of 18 years par­tic­i­pate in pros­ti­tu­tion re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.

Fur­ther­more, United Na­tions statis­tics show that an es­ti­mated one mil­lion chil­dren are forced into pros­ti­tu­tion ev­ery year.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Chil­dren Rights Com­mis­sion (UNCRC), and its Op­tional Pro­to­col on the sale of Chil­dren, Child Pros­ti­tu­tion and Child Pornog­ra­phy pro­hibits “the act of ob­tain­ing, procur­ing or of­fer­ing the ser­vices of a child or in­duc­ing a child to per­form sex­ual acts for any form of com­pen­sa­tion or re­ward.

How­ever, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Zim­bab­wean chil­dren are ex­posed to porno­graphic ma­te­rial on so­cial me­dia or the in­ter­net.

The threat to moral­ity has seen calls for Gov­ern­ment to speed up the cy­ber-crime law be­com­ing louder.

There­fore as we com­mem­o­rate the Day of the African Child, it is high time we put our Gov­ern­ment and other rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers to task.

It is time to move away from the habit of speeches with­out im­ple­ment­ing is­sues be­ing raised by chil­dren and the youth.

There is need for the rel­e­vant min­istry to ac­cel­er­ate har­mon­i­sa­tion and en­act­ment of laws that pro­tect the girl and boy child.

Chil­dren are call­ing for prac­ti­cal­i­ties that will pro­tect their well­be­ing as they are lead­ers of to­mor­row.

As such, there is need to em­brace a par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach when­ever Gov­ern­ment is craft­ing pol­icy or laws that af­fect the chil­dren. There is need to move away from the stereo­typ­i­cal at­ti­tude of ne­glect­ing chil­dren in de­ci­sions that af­fect them.

In ad­di­tion, there is need to ed­u­cate com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially on the rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of chil­dren.

In­for­ma­tion is key in en­sur­ing that child pro­tec­tion sys­tems be­gin to func­tion at grass­roots level.

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