via SW Radio Africa Zimbabwe’s Independent Voice | SW Radio Africa 3 July 2014 By Loveness Muyengwa- Mapuva
Children’s rights are human entitlements, freedoms and liberties that every child regardless of his or her vulnerability, gullibility and inability to make independent decisions is entitled to. The idea of children’s rights originated from France in the middle of the 19th century, where it sought to give children special protection, after gross violation of children’s rights in industries during the Industrial Revolution era. As time passes, the laws expanded to include children’s right to education and from the early 20th Century the idea spread across Europe. In 1919, the international community, subsequent to the creation of The League of Nations which later became the United Nations, attached some importance to the concept and created a UN Committee with a special mandate of protecting children’s rights. Thereafter, other rights were also incorporated and today a wide range of children’s rights are being promoted and protected in across the globe. They are universal entitlements which are recognised in international human rights law.
Currently, there is a progressive and well-knit legal framework providing for the protection and promotion of children’s rights at international and regional levels. Within the Zimbabwean African tradition, children are considered as mere extensions of the household and property ‘owned’ by fathers, who exert absolute parental control over them. However, due to globalisation, technological advancement and the social net-workings and the global need to protect human rights have taken over states sovereignty. Hence, the wave calling for the promotion and protection children’s rights swept across the African continent. Although the idea has a western slant, about 34 African countries have made substantial progress in ensuring that they domesticate the international laws promoting and protecting children’s rights.
The realization of children’s rights makes it incumbent upon State parties to conventions and treaties to put in place constitutional provisions and the attendant legislation for their promotion and protection. Hence, countries including South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Uganda have become pioneers in championing the cause of children and children’s rights. Over the years, Zimbabwean children’s rights had no constitutional protection and would be flouted and violated in the guise of lacking appropriate and adequate resources. Consequently, the Government of Zimbabwe has made a ground-breaking episode in its constitutional history by the timeous enactment of a new Constitution passed into law in March 2013. The new Constitution expressly incorporates children’s rights unlike the old Constitution which impliedly protected children’s rights under general provisions.
As part of national objectives, Section 19 places an obligation on the State to ensure that ‘the best interests of children’ are paramount in all matters relating to them.The best interests of the child are a doctrine used to determine a wide range of issues relating to the well-being of children. This also applies to policies and measures relating to children adopted by the Government of Zimbabwe. The two sections 19 and 81 seeks to ensure on one hand, that children enjoy their rights including the rights to family or parental care, shelter and basic nutrition, health care, social services, education and training. On the other hand it strives to protect children from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse, not to be recruited into a militia force or take part in armed conflict or hostilities, not to be compelled to take part in any political activity and not to be detained except as a measure of last resort.
In the same vein, Section 81 provides a definition of ‘a child’ within the Zimbabwean context as ‘every boy and girl under the age of eighteen years’. This helps clarify the age limit for children as some laws in Zimbabwe had previously been vague on the issue of age with some legislative provisions delineating the age at 16. Within the same breadth, Section 81 reiterates the concept of ‘best interests of children’ as paramount in every matter involving children. Consequently, the new Constitution complies with international child specific instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is the author’s conviction that the new Constitution will endeavour to protect Zimbabwean children’s rights in different matters affecting them, taking cognisance of the paramountcy of the concept of the ‘best interest of the child’.
Therefore, the new Constitution can be hailed for taking the initiative to put the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Zimbabwe as a matter of priority.
Loveness Muyengwa-Mapuva is a Lecturer at Midlands State University in the Faculty of Law. Her research interests are in human rights with specific focus on children’s rights. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.