The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) joins the Government of Zimbabwe, Civil Society Organizations, stakeholders and the global community at large in commemorating the Day of the African Child. The 2016 theme for Day of the African Childis: “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all Children’s Rights”.
The Day of the African Child is commemorated every year on the 16th of June by Member States of the African Union (AU), and its partners in accordance with Resolution CM/Res.1290 (XL) adopted by the AU in 1990.This occasion is firstly a commemoration to recall the 1976 uprising in Soweto, South Africa, when a protest by school children against apartheid-inspired education resulted in a massacre of innocent school children by the South African Police Forces. Over the years, countries in Africa continue to face various crisis and conflict situations and emergencies arising from armed conflicts, natural disasters, political, social and economic challenges, effects of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, to mention only a few, that exceed available resources and coping mechanisms. All these crisis and conflict situations result in gross violations of children’s rights in diverse situations across the continent contributing to increased risk of all forms of violence and exploitation of children.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees children several rights which include the right to education, health care services, nutrition and shelter, among others. In line with International and Regional Conventions, Treaties and Protocols which Zimbabwe is party to, the Constitution of Zimbabwe also guarantees a variety of civil, economic, social and cultural rights that span all spheres of life. Accordingly, Section 81 (2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe upholds the principle that a child’s best interests are paramount in every matter concerning the child. Our Constitution guarantees that all decisions and actions that affect a child shall take account of the need to prevent or minimise harm to the child at all times, irrespective of circumstances.
Zimbabwe is signatory to International Treaties and Conventions that protect, promote and uphold the fundamental rights of children, some of whose provisions, the country has domesticated into its national laws. The most prominent of these are the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). Progressive legislation passed over the years, Statutory Instruments (SIs) and Policy Frameworks guiding the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Zimbabwe largely conform to International and Regional standards and best practices for safeguarding the rights and welfare of children.
Despite these positive steps taken by Government, Civil Society, communities and stakeholders in advancing the promotion and protection of children’s rights, challenges and emerging issues continue to confront us. These include limited access of children to basic services such as health care, education, and adequate nutrition; lack of participation of children in governance and decision-making processes and the pervasive phenomenon of child marriages, all of which impact negatively on realization and fulfilment of children’s rights. During monitoring visits as part of its constitutional mandate to prisons, places of detention and disaster-affected communities (for example, the floods affected communities in Chingwizi and Tsholotsho), the Commission has witnessed situations impacting negatively on children’s survival and development relating to limited education opportunities and health facilities and inadequate standard of living in terms of nutrition, clothing, non-existence of recreational opportunities and limited psycho-social support mechanisms, pointing to the need for more concerted efforts by all to address and fulfil children’s rights.
The Commission commends, His Excellency, the President of Zimbabwe for recently granting amnesty to the majority of female prisoners, some of whom were incarcerated with their children or whose children were otherwise affected by the imprisonment of their mothers. The Commission notes that the Presidential pardon also extended to juveniles under the age of 18, has contributed to de-congestion of prisons and has benefitted children who were living under harsh detention conditions, thus giving them a second chance in life.
As we commemorate Day of the African Child in the context of the theme, “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all Children’s Rights”, ZHRC acknowledges the positive steps being taken by Government to align national laws to the Constitution and calls upon Government and stakeholders to expedite the process so as to facilitate the domestication of all rights provided for in the CRC, ACRWC and other treaties and Conventions Zimbabwe is party to. The Commission implores Government and all duty bearers to honour their constitutional and legal obligations towards children, particularly through effective and efficient enforcement of laws that protect, promote and uphold children’s rights including prioritizing protection of the rights of children in emergencies where ever they occur, in keeping with the focus of this year’s theme.
Today’s commemoration of the Day of the African Child requires us all to take stock, reflect and take positive steps to ensure all fundamental rights and best interests of children are protected, promoted and upheld.