These calls come at a time when members of religious sects such as apostolic churches have come under scrutiny at national level following revelations that they are violating women and children’s rights. Girls as young as 10 years are being given for marriage on the basis of “spiritual guidance” within the apostolic sect churches, which is a gross violation of children’s rights.
The religious sects have been accused of barring women and children from seeking medical attention from hospitals and this has contributed to unwarranted deaths and high maternal mortality ratio which currently stands at 525/100000. Pregnant women are not allowed to make antenatal visits to hospitals or clinics for check-ups. This has resulted in deaths of both mothers and infants mainly due to complications which would not have been detected timeously. Other harmful cultural practices which have been noted in Zimbabwe include child pledging where girls are used as compensation and to appease spirits for murders committed by a close relative like an uncle.
Section 80 of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe states that all laws, customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe on the rights of women are void to the extent of infringement on women’s rights. Section 81 states that a child’s best interest is paramount in every matter concerning the child. Children have a right to be protected from sexual exploitation, maltreatment and abuse.
The Nyanga and Makoni children, who spoke with ActionAid Zimbabwe representatives during a Strategy Operationalisation programme for AA Zimbabwe recently, said girls were dropping out of school in Nyanga and Makoni Districts as they married at an early age. They said other children were dropping out of school due to HIV and AIDS as they become orphans and are unable to pay for their school fees.
We want to use poems and drama to expose harmful cultural practices that have seen mainly girl children dropping out of school and marrying at a tender age, a boy from Ward 19 in Nyanga said.
The children called on ActionAid Zimbabwe and its partners operating in Makoni and Nyanga Districts, namely Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe (FCTZ) and Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) Nyanga, FACT Rusape, Diocese of Manicaland Community Care Programme (DOMCCP) and Simukai Child Protection to help them strengthen the children’s structures that help them monitor and fight child abuse. Some of the children’s structures which require strengthening are Child Protection Committees (CPCs), Junior School Development Committees (SDCs) and Girl Empowerment Clubs.
Twelve year old Munashe Chatiza from Nyamazira Ward in Chiendambuya, Makoni District said: “As school children who are not members of the CPCs and junior SDCs, what do we do when these structures prioritise a toilet when we want a classroom?” Asked what they would do as way forward to make sure the junior SDCs and CPCs prioritise what the majority of children want, 12 year old Takudzwa who is the CPC chairperson for his school said: “What we need is to consult school children during assembly time on whether they want a toilet or a classroom. We have not been consulting other children.”
The children have used the SDCs and child led CPC as watchdogs on children’s rights resulting in some orphans being assisted to attend school through the CPCs. “We received 50kg of peanuts from FCTZ and from the peanut butter sales, we bought uniforms and shoes for four orphans using a total of US$65, “ said Takudzwa. In addition they bought exercise books for 24 orphans ranging from Grade four to Grade 7 at their school in 2013. “We have realized that most orphans come to school without proper school uniforms and exercise books,” said Takudzwa.
ActionAid Zimbabwe has provided capacity building to its partners in Zimbabwe to cascade community training in various programmes that promote children and women’s rights. As at end of 2013, ActionAid Zimbabwe and partners in selected districts countrywide reached to over 7 500 children in programmes that promote children’s rights. In 2013, over 2000 women and girls have participated in structures that challenge harmful cultural practices through ActionAid Zimbabwe and partner interventions in Zimbabwe.
The calls by the children on their right to education resonate well with the Day of the African Child (DAC) theme for 2014 which is “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa.” On 16 June every year, the African Union and its Partners celebrate the DAC, in commemoration of the 1976 protests by school children in Soweto, South Africa. The students protested against an education designed to further the purposes of the apartheid regime. The brutal response of the apartheid security agencies to the unarmed students’ protests resulted in the death of a number of them. The 1976 protests contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of the apartheid regime. In 1991, the African Union Assembly passed a resolution designating 16 June as a Day for the celebration of the African child.