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Zimbabwe children’s parliament speaks out on rights issues

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2009/Munongerwa
Gugulethu Nkomo officiated at the opening of the 17th session of the the Children's Parliament, a programme of the Zimbabwe Youth Council.

By Tapuwa Mutseyekwa

In the run-up to 20 November 2009, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – including progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

HARARE, Zimbabwe, 6 November 2009 – The 17th session of the Children’s Parliament, a programme of the Zimbabwe Youth Council, opened recently with the aim of spurring the government into action to ensure child survival and empowerment.

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Since basic social services in Zimbabwe collapsed last year, leaving schools closed and the health system crippled, the country’s children have been denied their fundamental rights to both education and health. With little change on the horizon, the members of the Children’s Parliament have made a passionate plea to the government.

Concerns about education and employment
Conducting their session just as the grown-up Members of Parliament do, the child parliamentarians allowed members to present their concerns to their adult counterparts and the general public.

“The main problems affecting us as young people today are within the education system. Many children have dropped out of school for failure to pay fees, while many have failed to register for the final examinations because of the high fees being charged,” said Children’s Parliament President Gugulethu Nkomo.

Apart from the concerns raised within the education sector, the children also spoke about their concerns over growing unemployment levels and the need to involve young people in the law-making process. 

Dialogue with senior parliamentarians
“The issues that the children have raised are real,” said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama. “The Children’s Parliament has opened an opportunity for children to air their concerns and for the senior parliamentarians to respond to these queries. It is our hope, as UNICEF, that action will be taken to deliberate on all the issues raised.”

The senior parliamentarians responded with a commitment to improving the situation of children. Zimbabwe’s Acting President, along with Vice-President Joice Mujuru, spelled out the government’s commitment to youth development and the restoration of the health and education sectors in Zimbabwe.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2009/Munongerwa
Senior parliamentarians and dignitaries in Zimbabwe listen to the children’s deliberations.

“Government remains resolute in ensuring that our young people get access to affordable quality education,” said Ms. Mujuru, “Government will continue to support and enhance the scope of the Integrated Skills Outreach Programme in order to come up with well articulated, well coordinated, community-based vocational apprenticeship schemes.”

The right to have a voice
The Junior Parliament has been a key method for ensuring that children have a voice in the decisions that affect them, one of the basic rights guaranteed children in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This right to participation is as important as the rights to education and to health.

The annual Junior Parliament has become a forum for taking stock of whether the country is living up its obligations under Convention, as well as the Africa Youth Charter and the Africa Charter on the rights and welfare of the child.

As the world prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the CRC on 20 November, Zimbabwe’s children are aware that the milestones set for their development are still a long way off. But the Junior Parliament brings them one step closer to ensuring that their rights are respected, promoted and protected.




31 October 2009: UNICEF correspondent Val Wang reports on the 17th session of the Zimbabwe Children’s Parliament.
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