Zimbabwe, 16 June 2011: UNICEF and partners commemorate the Day of the African Child
A call to accelerate the realization of children’s rights
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 16 June 2011– The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today joined the rest of the African Continent in commemorating the Day of the African Child with a call to accelerate efforts to ensure the realization of children’s rights.
This year, Zimbabwe commemorates the Day of the African Child, when the country is gradually recovering from more than a decade of economic and political challenges that have greatly affected children’s access to basic social services, especially in the areas of health, education and child and social protection. While progress has been made, children continue to struggle to access life-saving Anti Retroviral drugs, for example, or clean water and health care. Many are invisible from social services altogether as they are living outside the family environment on the streets, in institutions or crossing borders into South Africa or Botswana without their parents.
“We commemorate the Day of the African Child this year with the stark reminder that Zimbabwe’s children still face enormous challenges in realizing their rights, but experiences in the past two years have made us see the great potential this country has to address these challenges,” said Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe.
Over the past two years, investment by the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe, UNICEF, the United Nations and partners in key social sectors of health, education, water, hygiene and sanitation, and social protection are making a difference in the lives of many children in the country. Support to health, education and water and sanitation sectors, for example, has ensured that millions of children around the country have access to essential and life-saving drugs, access to learning materials and textbooks and access to clean water, greatly reducing children’s vulnerability to water borne diseases.
“As UNICEF we want to continue to achieve results for Zimbabwe’s children and ensure that we reach as many children as possible through our work,” said Dr. Salama. “We will continue to support a protective environment for children and boost their development, improve their health, education and well-being.”
In an effort to ensure children’s issues remain on the national agenda, the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe, UNICEF and its partners will, over the next few months, use the momentum of the Day of the African Child to continue to advocate for the rights of children through a number of activities that will culminate in the 19th Session of the Junior Parliament to be held on July 16, 2011, with a special focus on Children and the Constitution.
Led by the African Union, the theme for this year’s commemorations is: “All together For Urgent Actions in Favour of Street Children”. It is a realization of the huge challenge facing children living outside the family environment, whether because of poverty, abuse or HIV and AIDS.
In Zimbabwe, the growing population of children living on the streets is a reflection of the high orphan population in the country. One in four children in Zimbabwe has lost one or both parents, most of them as a result of HIV and AIDS. Undoubtedly, many of these young people face immense challenges and deprivations and struggle to access even the most basic social services, forcing them into undesirable situations such as living on the streets.
While many children who end up on the streets are running away from sexual abuse, other forms of violence and poverty, the issue of violence extends far beyond just children living on the streets. At least 25 percent of girls affected by HIV are exposed to sexual violence before their 18th birthday while 13 percent of girls report being sexually harassed by teachers and/or fellow pupils. Of these, 7 percent report having been forced into sex at least once.
However, even with these challenges, there remain opportunities to realize children’s and young people’s rights in Zimbabwe. The ongoing Constitution making process presents a unique opportunity for the rights of Zimbabwe’s children to be guaranteed. Last year, UNICEF in collaboration with the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC), the Ministries of Constitutional Affairs and Youth Development, the United Nations, the Zimbabwe Youth Council, as well as civil society organizations, supported a Special Children’s National Consultative Outreach programme through COPAC. More than 4,000 children and young people from the country’s 63 districts had the opportunity to air their views on what they wanted included in the new Constitution, clearly stressing their social, economic and cultural rights.
“We must keep the promise that we made to the children when they participated in the Constitution making process and ensure their wishes and aspirations are reflected in the final draft of Zimbabwe’s new Constitution,” said Dr. Salama.
UNICEF’s work in Zimbabwe is made possible through generous support from its key donors which include the Governments of Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, The United Kingdom, The United States, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, as well as the European Commission and UNICEF’s own resources including donations from Foundations and private citizens all over the world.
The Day of the African Child is celebrated on June 16 in recognition of the day when, thousands of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language in 1976. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot; and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.
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Micaela De Sousa, Chief of Communications
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