Tsvangirai addresses Junior Parliament

It is my pleasure and honour to interact with the most important constituency in human life, the children.

We must treat our children with love and tenderness knowing that every word spoken within the hearing of little children tends towards the formation of character.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Zimbabwe is a signatory to the African Youth Charter, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, among other international and regional treaties.

This official opening of the 20th Session of the Junior Parliament is a milestone in the quest by Government to include children in governance.

Parliament is an institution created to empowering people to have oversight over their leaders and to safe guard democratic values. In Zimbabwe, the current Parliament is reflective of the inclusive Government that we formed after the signing of the Global Political Agreement.

We have tried to focus more on issues that cut across the political divide, issues that are national rather than personal to drive our nation forward. This has been in an effort to achieve collaboration rather than competition.

The fact that all the Principals in the inclusive Government are gathered here today is a bold statement that we are all committed to the development and success of our young people.

During the life of the 20th Session of the Junior Parliament, I urge you to focus more on issues that advance your interests and ideas.

As our torchbearers, we urge you to devote your energies towards creating a better Zimbabwe, that provides jobs to all our young people, a Zimbabwe with a thriving economy, with functional health and educational institutions and where people’s creativity is rewarded. A progressive nation that is committed to democratic values, the rule of law, security of persons and respect for human rights guaranteed in our Constitution.

Ladies and Gentlemen; the inauguration of the 20th Session of the Junior Parliament coincides with the commemoration of the Day of the African Child marked on 16th June every year.

This year’s commemorations of Day of the African Child, are being held under the theme: The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The duty to protect, respect, promote and fulfill.

Children living with disability have the same rights as all children and possess the same potential as their able-bodied counterparts. Our duty is to provide equal opportunities for all children irrespective of physical or mental condition.

The Day of the African Child calls us to reflect on how much we, as Government, have invested towards the development of our children. Indeed, the question is: Have we done enough?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), establishes the rights of children in three important areas: provision, protection and participation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, children have the right to the provision of basic necessities, health care, shelter and education which are essential to their well-being.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we meet here almost a year after the disappearance of then three year old Given Flint Matapure who went missing last August.

Many other children have been kidnapped and their body parts collected for ritual purposes. Our hearts are with all those parents whose children have been abused in one way or another.

Children in Africa, Zimbabwe included, are affected by many different types of abuse, including economic and sexual exploitation, gender discrimination in education and access to health, and their involvement in armed conflict.

Other factors affecting African children include migration, early marriage, differences between urban and rural areas, child-headed households, street children and poverty.

Another disturbing trend, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the abuse of children for political mileage. We have often seen politicians using school premises for meetings, thereby dislodging pupils from their classrooms.

We have also seen the culture of using the youth in political violence. Some are using their wealth, most of it ill gotten, to negatively influence young people into committing heinous crimes.

This must stop if we want our society to live peacefully and to fully promote children’s rights. I call upon the Junior MPs to be vocal against the use of the youth to promote violence.

Some children grew up orphaned because their parents died during the liberation struggle, some lost their parents during Gukurahundi and indeed during the troubled 2008 political violence. We have many young people who lost life and limb during these political disturbances. They deserve to be looked after.

This calls for a change in attitude especially among politicians. We must foster a culture of tolerance that allows people to be free to choose which football team or political party to support.

The Junior Parliament provides children with the opportunity to organize themselves to represent their own interests.

This initiative must be supported by budgetary processes that involve children in choosing their priorities alongside adults.

The African Youth Charter obliges member states to provide an environment that promotes participation of young people in nation building.

Junior Parliamentarians, you are tasked with the responsibility to represent the interests of your peers. We want to see strong principled leaders rising from among you.

Remember if you are contented with what you have done, you will never reach your potential.

Let me caution that as Junior Parliamentarians today and national legislators of tomorrow you have to learn to co-exist with the other arms of Government- the Executive and the Judiciary.

The balance among the three is not easy to attain and yet it is very essential as a safeguard for any democracy. Many a times that balance has been lost and we have ended up with a compromised and weak branch of government.

The principle of checks and balances lies at the heart of our success into the future and I hope that as we craft our new constitution a new consensus emerges around collective responsibility to make our democracy work in this country. This is an important legacy for current leadership to bequeath to the upcoming generation, you among them.

The Government will fully respect the rights of children, including the right to a decent education, primary health care, shelter and basic needs and will ensure that these are expressed in the new constitution, which we are currently writing.

I wish you all the best in your further deliberations on the most topical issues affecting the nation during the 20th Session of the Junior Parliament and hope that you will achieve milestones during your time.

I thank you.

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