INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S DAY 2023
[20 November 2023]
For every child, every right
This year marks the 64th year that the world commemorates Children’s Day. The day seeks to serve as a reminder to promote international togetherness, raise awareness of the rights of children worldwide and improve children’s welfare.
On the 20th of November 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of the Child [link] and on the 20th of November 1989, it further adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child [link]. The two international instruments are now recognised as international standards for children’s rights.
For Every Child, Every Right
The theme this year is simple, it seeks to ensure that every child is afforded all their rights. It promotes a children’s rights approach when looking at human rights and implores states, guardians and parents to see children as right bearers and not merely objects to protect. This means that children have a voice and we cannot always make rules for them without them.
Children in War and Conflicts
We have been made agonisingly aware of the suffering of children in the wars and conflicts of these last few years. Recently our screens are full of images of Israeli children killed or abducted. Then the horror of the numbers of Palestinian children killed and wounded. And the genocide going in Darfur where so many especially boy children and babies are being killed in deliberate ethnic cleansing. And the children injured in indiscriminate bombing or abducted in the Ukraine war. And before that Syria. It is horrific. Where are the rights and welfare of children in all this. Where is our common humanity in all this. It is bad enough when children die or are injured in natural catastrophes – earthquakes, floods, etc. but war and conflicts are within human agency. For the sake of our world’s children they must stop.
Children’s Rights in Zimbabwe
Children are first mentioned in the Zimbabwean Constitution under section 19 - the national objectives. Section 19 says that all decisions regarding children should be made in the best interests of the child. This is an important principle which echoes international law on children. The principle implores all stakeholders and parties concerned to make decisions which are non-discriminatory and favour the development of the child.
Further, in chapter 4 of the Constitution which is called the Declaration of Rights, children’s rights are entrenched in section 81. Section 81 covers a wide range of issues from the right to equal treatment before the law, to the right to a name, right to a family , freedom from sexual exploitation , education , health and nutrition. The right takes the a holistic approach in looking at what is needed to survive childhood. Section 81 is an extensive rights clause however a lot is left to be desired over its actual implementation.
Numbers Don’t Lie
According to UNICEF, there are about 7.7million children in Zimbabwe and 2.5million of them are under the age of 5. This means that overall, children make up to nearly 48% of the population. In 2022, the Registrar-General’s office held a blitz which saw the registration of over 1 million identity documents. This included birth certificates. Although these efforts were made, as late as November 2022, it was being reported by Zimstat that only 19% of children born between April 2021 and April 2022 had birth certificates. This means that 81% of the children born during that time can be assumed to have no birth certificates. This means they have no formal identity. The conversation to afford every child every right cannot be had without addressing the pertinent issue of the birth certificate. Under section 81(1)(c) of the Constitution, every child has the right to a birth certificate which allows them the right to a name and a national identity number. It must be remembered that the birth certificate has been dubbed ‘the passport to life’ as it is through this document that all other rights of the child can be afforded.
The World’s Children Prize is an organisation that keeps track of statistics of children from all over the world. The organisation claims that 1 in 17 children in Zimbabwe die every year due to the poor health system. UNICEF states that only about 15% of children in the country complete upper secondary school. UNICEF also states that only 10% of children under 2 years in Zimbabwe are receiving a minimum acceptable diet whilst 24% of children are said to be stunted.
As the old saying goes, “numbers do not lie” and these numbers are not good. They are an indicator of poor implementation of the rights of the child in Zimbabwe and evidently show how far we have strayed from our national objective to act in the best interests of the child in all matters concerning the child.
As we commemorate Children’s Day today, we may not be able to help the many children suffering in war and conflict or in other parts of the world although many of us may try and help through various charities. But we can fight for the rights and welfare of children in Zimbabwe. The duty to ensure that children’s rights are implemented does not lie just with a Government Ministry or department It lies with us all. We all need to take heed that the future of the country lies in the hands of the very children we are ignoring as we ignore their rights. The statistics are a great cause for concern and we implore all – parents, guardians and the government alike to play their part to ensure every right for every child.