“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children …and there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” (The famous quote from the legendary Nelson Mandela at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in 1997). The Heads of State and Governments in the Preamble of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children reiterated the unique and supra value placed on children particularly in the African context “Recognising that the child occupies a unique and privileged position in the African society and that for the full and harmonious development of his personality, the child should grow up in a family environment in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding . Biblically the child is a symbol of humility and purity. The dedication of 16 June every year as a special day set aside to celebrate the gift of childhood in the African context through the Day of the African Child is clear testimony of such commitment to situate children at the centre of humanity.
As I was going through the theme of the 2017 Day of the African Child, I realised this is a heavily packed and complex theme saturated with diverse and intrinsically interrelated child protection issues. For the purposes of progressive conceptualisation, I therefore chose to limit the scope of this first edition of my publication to the first part of the theme that is “Accelerating protection… for Children in Africa” with a focus on the collaborative child protection interventions from the state, Childline Zimbabwe and the entire child protection fraternity. Progressive articles will address the preceding components of the theme.
The government of Zimbabwe and its development partners need to be commended for the commitment demonstrated towards the progressive realisation of children’s rights through the domestication of various child protection instruments articulated in international and regional laws the state is party to. To demonstrate the complexity of the need to accelerate the protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Zimbabwe, in 2016 Childline Zimbabwe responded to 609 480 calls via the free phone 116. From these calls, 17985-child protection cases were reported and provided with psychosocial support to empower as well as promote resilience. The reports were appropriately referred to relevant stakeholders (the Victim Friendly Unit, Department of Child Welfare and Protection Services, Ministry of Health among others) for further management. Worrisomely sexual abuse reports constituted the greater chunk of the statistics. The gendered dimensions of child protection were also evident with the girl child constituting 69% of the child protection reports and 31% being child protection concerns for boys. The age disaggregations were equally worrisome particularly for the 0-6 years and the 13-15 years age quintiles. Reports on the various forms of violence perpetrated on children ranged from sexual violence, neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, child marriages, bullying, and exposure to domestic violence among others. For comprehensive statistical update, please visit the Childline Zimbabwe website. From these statistics, it is indeed imperative that the country needs serious investment in child protection in order to safeguard the future of the children of Zimbabwe.
At the beginning of 2016, the nation celebrated and ululated following the landmark constitutional court ruling outlawing child marriage. This was a giant milestone towards the protection of children from the myriad of vulnerabilities related to child marriages. This led to a sharp increase in the number of cases reported to Childline Zimbabwe and other authorities across the country. The war against child marriages is not however over as the constitutional court ruling was as good as winning a battle in the context of an ongoing war. What now needs to be done with expedition is the criminalisation of child marriages through the alignment of the Marriages Act and other consequential legislations to be in sync with the Constitution of Zimbabwe as successful prosecution of perpetrators has been scarce owing to the inconsistent legal provisions that have not yet been harmonised.
Let me reiterate the fact child protection is collective responsibility with the key actors being the children themselves, state apparatus, duty bearers, parents, and guardians, various institutions (schools, churches, and social groups). If everyone plays their role responsibly and diligently, then the future of child protection is bright. It is upon that realisation that deliberate intervention efforts can be crafted along a whole range of approaches that can be protective, promotive, preventive and transformative as the case may be. A friend of mine once proposed a theory that a woman should wear four types of gowns (dresses) in their correct order as follows; school uniform, graduation gown, wedding gown and maternity gown and not vice versa. Let us invest in the education of our children as one of the approaches to combat child marriages.
One of the critical steps towards the acceleration of child protection lie in the power of the coordinated collective. There is an urgent need to address the disparities in service provision emanating from silorised programming on child protection issues. In as much as the variations and plurality of child protection is demonstration of collective responsibility to promote child well being, there are often unintended concerns and challenges emanating from errors of exclusion or duplication of efforts to the detriment of progressive and universal realisation of children’s rights. An example of the possible silos in Zimbabwe would be the fact that child protection seems to be domiciled in different ministries with different approaches, thrusts and intervention modalities but lack the coordination framework.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare is responsible for administration of the Children’s Act Chapter 5:06; the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education administers the Education Act Chapter; the Ministry of Health and Child Care oversees the implementation of the Public Health Act but also has a vested interest in child care. Noble as the approaches are, there is however strong need for collaborations, coordination and collective programming to address potential leakages and exclusions. The observation and recommendation from the African Committee of Experts on Children’s Rights were that the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare is implementing child protection interventions through the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (NAP 1, 2 and 3). At the same time the Ministry of Health and Child Care is implementing an almost similar approach with slight differences in the wording under the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. If the approaches are not harmonised and coordinated, this could lead to some unintended errors of exclusion or errors of duplication given the fact that both are targeting the same child. A harmonised approach would therefore be more economical in terms of programming in the spirit of Value-for-money.
The acceleration of child protection, empowerment and equal opportunity is a progressive. It is tempting to approach the theme from the thinking that 2030 is a long time to operationalise and achieve the regional goal. Time for action is now! A tip to realise this objective is for the nation not start planning afresh on how to achieve this target but to simply operationalise and implement the wonderful array of enabling child protection mechanisms that are already in place. Acceleration implies that the object is already in motion hence does not necessarily need to be restarted. The country already has in place sound child protection mechanisms contained in legal statutes, policies, programmes and protocols, which simply need to be operationalised expeditiously. An example is the Protocol on the Multisectoral Management of Sexual Violence and Abuse in Zimbabwe, which clearly stipulates the roles of each stakeholder in child protection. There may be need to simply refresh people’s memories in terms of the way forward. The National Social Protection Policy Framework is another holistic tool that can be used to address the multidimensionality of child protection issues affecting children in Zimbabwe. What is needed therefore is to accelerate the rate of implementation of the tools through a coordinated and collaborative approach in resource mobilisation, engagement, joint programming and a collective accountability framework particularly to the children of Zimbabwe.
As we celebrate the Day of the African Child, I encourage all of us to take a sober reflection and action towards addressing the child protection concerns facing our beautiful nations. I always believe in the collective good and the power that lies in genuine collaborative commitment to achievement of set goals. All this can be achieved in the spirit of oneness, inclusivity, participation and good governance/accountability.
Feel free to engage with Childline Zimbabwe as we celebrate 20 Years of Listening through the free, child-friendly, confidential 24-hour reporting mechanism via the following platforms:
Free phone : 116
Email: [email protected]
Whatsapp: 0731 116 116/ 0716 116 116
Article prepared by Richard Savo
(Child Protection Specialist with Childline Zimbabwe)Post published in: Featured