Zimbabwe Children and Constitution Making
By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa
Among his peers, Simba Chikukwa, (13 years) is hardly noticeably as his small stature is overshadowed by the others. It is when he stands up to speak that all eyes and ears focus on this confident young man from Gutu district, 255 km from Harare. Simba ensures that through his oratory prowess, the voices of thousands of other children in Zimbabwe can be heard and considered, as Zimbabwe undergoes a process of redrafting its constitution.
“As children, we are often excluded when decisions about our lives are being made” says Simba, “we hope that this new constitution will guarantee every right that we have as children and to ensure that we do not suffer because of the choices, decisions and believes of our parents or elders.”
Zimbabwe’s constitution is currently being reviewed as part of the Global Political Agreement signed by the three main political parties in September 2008 and will replace the current constitution which was adopted just before Independence at the Lanchester House Meeting of 1979. Children’s participation in the process is in keeping with the agreed framework of inclusion, democracy and participation in the drafting of the constitution. The participation of children in the outreach processes that have been conducted throughout Zimbabwe has been limited mainly because of the tradition of excluding children in formal processes.
During a special children’s national consultative outreach programme which was conducted in Harare by the Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) with support from UNICEF, Simba was among the more than 160 children from across Zimbabwe who called for a new constitution which guarantees the rights and best interests of every child, especially with regard to education, religion, health and social protection. Abolishment of corporal punishment in schools, free and equitable access to education, mandatory immunisation, the elimination of discrimination and freedom of speech were some of main issues which the children identified as key to ensuring that their rights are well protected through the new constitution.
The participating children, representing the views of children from all 63 districts of Zimbabwe, were drawn from the Zimbabwe Junior Parliament, representatives from the Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs’ capacity building programme and children from special interest groups including children living with HIV, children with disabilities and children living on the streets.
“The children have been consulted and rightfully so as they constitute a majority of Zimbabwe’s population”, said Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment, Hon. Saviour Kasukuwere.
It was not only those with the power of oratory like Simba’s that contributed to the process, children were also supported to voice their ideas directly to the Consultative Outreach Team through a combination of games, small group discussions and formal parliamentary debates, an innovative and child-friendly departure from the formal consultation process that is available to adult Zimbabweans. The discussions also benefited from the “What About Us” methodology which was developed by children as a tool to reflect, prioritise and articulate their views, concerns, hopes and solutions for the future in the new constitution.
“Children’s voices and contribution to the constitution making process is critical,” says UNICEF Representative, Dr. Peter Salama. “All Zimbabwean children have a legitimate claim to make contributions to this process as issues tabled in the constitution will affect their lives today and in future.” “I commend the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe and COPAC in particular for this bold undertaking to ensure that the views of children are taken into account directly in the Constitution making process” added Dr. Salama.
Honourable Paul Munyaradzi Mangwana, COPAC Co-Chairman said, ”Traditional practice has generally not considered children’s opinions and views to be important, but we have decided that in this historic process, their views should be considered because children are the future. “COPAC is committed to its mandate of producing a true people-driven Constitution.”
At the conclusion of the programme, children presented COPAC with a formal record of their discussions and recommendations; a score card for marking the new Constitution, proposing that the absence of constitutional protection of child rights should warrant the document being awarded a ‘Fail’ grade. In accepting the official submissions, COPAC Co Chairman, Hon. Douglas Mwonzora guaranteed the children that their intelligent and well thought out contributions would definitely find their way into the chapters of Zimbabwe’s constitution.
“By including children in the constitution making process, Zimbabwe is bench-marking itself against the best in the world,” said Honourable Mwonzora, “The participation of children in this process has certainly marked a victory for human rights and children’s rights in Zimbabwe.”
Children and young people make up more than 70% of Zimbabwe’s population. Over the last decade, it is this constituency that has felt the greatest challenges and uncertainties in the education, health and other basic social services sectors.