Engaging parliament on promotion of child rights in Zimbabwe
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa
Honourable Gertrude Chibagu (62years) has been at the helm of the leadership of Guruve South constituency for the past year as the Member of Parliament. Laying more than 300 kilometres from Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare, Guruve South is well known for its inhabitant’s disposition and sense of responsibility towards each other.
As a newly elected member of Zimbabwe’s Parliament, Hon. Chibagu believes that upholding the cultural values of respect for human life and caring for each other is crucial for development and these values will certainly be strengthened by her new understanding of children’s rights.
Hon. Chibagu is one of the 38 Members of Parliament from Zimbabwe’s parliament who are being actively engaged by UNICEF through the Ministry of Health and Child Care and Women’s University of Africa to advocate on children’s rights. Parliamentary engagement is essential and strategic in the advancement of the well-being of children as parliamentarians are custodian for the rights of children in the country and members of parliament.
Through sensitizing them on problems and issues facing children in Zimbabwe, Hon Chibagu and her peers are being positioned to better oversee, advocate and legislate for the strengthening of laws and policies that promote the rights of children, – especially those who are the most deprived and vulnerable.
At an initial capacity building workshop held recently in Nyanga, Members of Parliament were equipped with knowledge and practical long-term skills on child rights and child rights advocacy that they can use in legal and policy analyses, critical thinking, formulation of legal and policy frameworks, monitoring and evaluating public policy and Government activities as they relate to the realisation of children’s rights and child well-being. The Members of Parliament were also enlightened on the provisions of key International, Regional and National Instruments that inform child rights and which can guide them in their oversight, legislative and advocacy roles in Parliament.
Hon. Chibagu elaborated on how as a Member of Parliament she is entrusted by her constituency to meet their various needs and articulate these on their behalf in the drafting of appropriate policies and legislation; but with inadequate knowledge of some pertinent issues, she would be of disservice during her five year tenure. She said Members of Parliament’s knowledge on children’s rights in particular is usually limited and yet they are expected to develop laws and policies that protect children and advance their rights and monitor their enforcement and implementation.
“We have been enlightened on a lot of things which we as leaders we have often overlooked and I believe I would be better serving my constituency if I had this knowledge when I was elected in 2013,”
Sexual abuse of children, early marriages and deprivations faced by orphaned children are some of the child rights violations daily confronting children in her constituency. These issues are not peculiar to Guruve Constituency. Data from the 2012 National Census show that about 32% of the women aged between 20-49 years are married before their 18th birthday while around 5% of women aged 15 to 49 years are married before their 15th birthday and up to 24% of young women began child bearing in their teens (15-19 years).
UNICEF Chief of Social Policy, Samson Muradzikwa, challenged the members of parliament to uphold the constitutional rights of Zimbabwean children to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation.
“As a country we have been progressive in the area of child care and child protection as a signatory to the regional and international charters on the rights of the child. But, we also all know, that more is yet to be done to respond to the many issues affecting the future development of children.”
A grandmother of seven children, Hon. Chibagu was also quick to highlight that oftentimes children’s views and capacities are not given due consideration in domestic or national discussions, and yet they have a body of experience and knowledge that is unique to their situation. A collaboration with the junior parliament structure and other child rights structures in her constituency will help ensure that all levels of children are well represented and their views taken seriously.
“One of the biggest challenges that we face as parliamentarians is to understand the realities our constituents face and I am now aware that we should be the first to reach out to them, understand their realities and concerns and take them into account.”