Zimbabwe’s children advocate for Bill of Rights in the new Constitution
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 16 September 2011 – This past July, the 19th Session of Zimbabwe’s Junior Parliament officially opened, with the incoming Child President, Anesu Rangwani pledging a greater role by children in the crafting of a new constitution that should incorporate a separate Bill of Rights for children.
Held under the theme “All Together for Urgent Action in Favour of Children Living in the Street”, this year’s Junior Parliament session focussed on ways to improve basic rights for all children; including access to birth registration and national identity.
Incorporating children’s rights
This year’s parliament is unique in its inclusivity of issues dealing with children living and working on the streets, as well as children living with disabilities, who requested that their specific vulnerabilities be taken into account when new laws were being considered.
“As we finalise the new constitution, let the contributions that children made be reflected in it,” said Child President Rangwani. “This new crop of Junior Parliamentarians will bring in new ideas and we want to enhance active participation of all children — including children and young people living and working on the streets.”
Zimbabwe’s Junior Parliament has actively articulated the issues affecting Zimbabwe’s children for the past 20 years. UNICEF Representative Dr. Peter Salama reminded the incoming Junior Parliamentarians of the impressive role that was played by the outgoing Junior Parliament last year when an urgent recommendation was made to the Constitution Select Committee, calling for the incorporation of a Bill of Rights for children and young people in the new Constitution.
Supporting the call
“The official opening of the 19th Session of the Junior Parliament is taking place at a crucial time, when the country is in the process of developing a new Constitution,” said Dr. Salama. ”We must all support this call by our children and continue to facilitate the incorporation of children’s and young people’s rights in the new Constitution.”
Zimbabwe’s Junior Parliament continues to be an active platform for children to articulate issues affecting them. In his address to the more than 3,500 children from different parts of the country, who attended this Parliament session, the President of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Robert Mugabe assured them that the Government would honour its pledge to incorporate a separate Bill of Rights in the new constitution.
“We have heard you continuously say that you want a separate Bill of Rights in the New Constitution, a set of rights which are separate from others, which you can use to highlight when the Government has committed an act of omission,” said President Mugabe. “We agree with you on that.”
Focus on education
During the session, President Mugabe was honoured for the remarkable progress made in education since the country’s independence. In addition, UNICEF was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for its efforts in revitalising the education sector.
“The Junior Parliament has deliberated and endorsed these awards in recognition of contributions made to improving Zimbabwe’s education since independence and helping Zimbabwe maintain a lead in literacy rates in Africa,” said outgoing Child President Nigel Gwanzura as he presented the awards.
Over the last two years, children’s debate has focussed on children’s concerns on access to quality education. Throughout 2010, UNICEF worked with the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe to revitalise the education sector and promote quality education. All primary schools were provided with critical learning materials including 15 million textbooks, stationery and furniture.