Rights advocate Graça Machel pledges support for Zimbabwean children at risk
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 6 December 2010 – A chance to laugh and dance, to talk, share, learn from the experiences of others – this was the opportunity a group of Zimbabwean children had recently when child rights advocate Graça Machel spent the morning with them in Harare.
“As an orphan, I live a life of uncertainty, not knowing what home is, not knowing what love is and just being unsure of whether you will go to school next term,” said Charlene Vhuta, 15, whose smile and gentle nature mask the many challenges she has faced. “But I have learnt that it is important to talk about these things and find common solutions with my peers,” she added.
For another girl, Lucy (not her real name), meeting Ms. Machel helped her forget the difficulties of seeking treatment for HIV while trying to conceal her condition from her family, peers and neighbours. And the interaction with other children gave Lucy a chance to participate in discussions about matters affecting her life.
“As an HIV-positive teen, getting the chance to be with someone who understands my circumstances and wants to find a way to help me, is more than I have expected in a long time,” she said.
Children’s constitutional rights
Ms. Machel was in Zimbabwe to better understand how the difficult economic situation here is affecting children and how their rights can be protected – and to meet with young people themselves, including orphans and children living with HIV.
“Spending time with these children has shown me that despite the tremendous challenges that they have faced in life, they remain hopeful,” said Ms. Machel. “I am very happy that after years of problems, these children are back in school and I am convinced that the future of this country is very bright.”
During her three-day visit, Ms. Machel met with Vice President Joice Mujuru, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe, and other senior government officials.
“Part of the purpose of my visit was to understand and get an appreciation of how children’s rights will be enshrined into the constitution currently being reviewed,” she said. “From discussion with the children and with the key officials of government, I know a lot has been done, and I am pledging my support to advocate that children’s rights become part of the constitution.”
‘A friend and advocate’
While in Zimbabwe, Ms. Machel also visited with children and mothers at Harare Central Hospital’s Paediatric Unit. She pledged to support the re-launch of the so-called ‘child survival and development revolution’ of the 1980s, amidst the country’s high mortality rate among children under the age of five and high HIV prevalence.
“The world today has the knowledge, technology and capacity to reduce to a minimum the level of transmission of HIV to children, and to treat children with the disease,” said Ms. Machel.
“Mrs. Machel’s visit is a reminder to the children of this country that they have a friend and advocate who wants them to grow up healthy, educated and protected,” said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama. “We appreciate her efforts to support children’s rights in Zimbabwe and to ensure that children are put at the centre of the country’s rehabilitation and development efforts.”