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Need for a National Children Protection Policy

nascoh October 29, 2013

By Lovemore Rambiyawo

NASCOH Information and Communications Officer

 

On June 16, Zimbabwe joined the African Union in commemorating the Day of the African Child under the theme:”The Rights of Children with Disabilities; the duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill.”  These are noble objectives, indeed, especially in light of the fact that the duty to protect, respect, promote and fulfill the rights of children is the responsibility of everyone is society..

It is somewhat disconcerting however, that despite the phenomenal successes that the country has posted in advancing the rights of the child , the children protection system Zimbabwe continues to operate without a National Children Protection Policy to guide it in the seminally important  duty of protecting, respecting, promoting and fulfilling the rights of children in Zimbabwe, including and especially, children with disabilities, who lack access to the fundamental rights and freedoms that other children in society take for granted.

 

Despite the presence of a slew of child protection policies by institutions in the country and organizations working in the area of children, Zimbabwe does not have an overarching national child development or child protection policy that that would floodlight the way for all and obligate government ministries, institutions and non governmental organizations working with children to implement policy resolutions falling within their purview.  In addition to obligating stakeholders to to exercise their various mandates, the policy would offset the lack of enforcement of anti-abandonment legislation and fragmented child protection service delivery inherent in the children protection system in Zimbabwe, through providing a mechanism to coordinate and synchronise the child protection activities of all agencies, institutions, civil sector organizations, communities and families involved in ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of the child.

The Children Protection and Adoption Act of 2006, which guides the implementation of child protection activities in Zimbabwe, has a number of glaring shortcomings. Prevention of child abuse and neglect is perceived to be addressed simply through the protection and penalty aspects of legislation, while early child intervention, child development, recovery, reintegration and redress receive little or no attention at all; law implementation of anti abandonment legislation is uneven and existing initiatives are, in general, insufficient; there are no monitoring and accountability provisions which are fundamental to ensure government departments and agencies, their partners and those contracted to work on their behalf, are clear about what is expected of them, and that there are systems in place to hold them accountable and processes to monitor outcomes and ensure quality of services in the children protection services system. There has not been a consistent approach to the provision of preventative education strategies aimed at children, such as protective behaviours programs.  Although penalties are specified for the abandonment of children, enforcement of anti-abandonment legislation is largely non-existent and children with disabilities, especially, continue to fall through the cracks of the system and are abandoned with impunity.

 

By failing to cater holistically in the prevention and protection of children, the act relegates the life of abandoned children to a life of social exclusion, stigmatization and discrimination, with the resultant lack of access to life opportunities and exposure to chronic poverty militating against the children achieving their full potential in life. It is a situation that cries out loudly for redress.

 

In light of these deficiencies, there is need for the formulation and implementation of a National Child Development policy that provides, inter alia,  for holistic child protection strategies that guarantee beneficial outcomes for children, including children with disabilities.  Such a policy would not only ensure the holistic integration of child protection measures as fully as possible into all facets of society , from families and communities,

various government departments and agencies dealing with children issues, partner child

organizations, NGOs, and civil society: it  would also obligate all ministries and concerned

stakeholders to implement resolutions falling under their policy category and create

mutually-beneficial multisectoral and intersectoral collaboration.  It would also provide a

mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the child protection activities across the

board.

 

The government of Tanzania, for example, has such a child development policy in place.

The policy, which was formulated by the Ministry of Community Development, Women’s

Affairs and Children in 1996, comes in the wake of the government having created a special

ministry to coordinate   child development programmes and encourage non-governmental

organizations, individuals, etc to establish centres for children in difficult circumstances; to

set up schools and institutions to cater for children with particular problems; to set up

voluntary associations to serve and defend children; and to establish juvenile courts so that

those suspected of breaking the law are dealt with in such a way that their status is not

violated.

 

On a positive note, in 1990, the Zimbabwe Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, as such, Zimbabwe became a State party to the Convention on 11 September 1990. As a State party, Zimbabwe has committed itself to respect and continue to observe the rights set forth in the Convention. The country has also ratified the African Charter on the rights of the child. Zimbabwe has made phenomenal progress to ensure the protection and survival of the rights of the child, particularly in health and education. The aim has been to improve the welfare of the majority of children whose protection and needs were not previously met due to the social inequalities wrought by the former colonial system. Cognisant that the protection of the child is of particular importance as children are the future, the government has made great strides in the provision of the basic services to children and their protection in the last 20 years. especially in the areas of education, health, family planning, population and small holder agriculture.

 

These achievements would be bolstered by a national children protection policy that ensures that all interventions targeting the development of children in the country should ensure that children with disabilities are included in all programs intended to end violence towards and abuse of children. In addition to child protection, the policy should also put emphasis on prevention activities like pre-natal care, early child intervention, child development, recovery, reintegration and redress that play a critical role in protecting families through early intervention and prevention activities.

The policy should provide for communitywide training, mentoring and counseling of parents and caregivers in the five protective factors that have been identified by research as ameliorating the possibility of child abuse and neglect.  These include nurturing and parenting, knowledge of parenting and youth development, parental resilience to overcome stressors and recover from occasional crises, cultivation of social connections that offer support, encouragement and assistance, and providing concrete support for at risk parents. It should provide for communitywide disability awareness programmes designed to make the community understand and be able to cope with disability.

On account of the central role that child care institutions play in the life of children with disabilities,    it should provide for the establishment of  a violence-free, safe environment for children with disabilities in care institutions; provision of  a professional, adequate and well trained institutional staff; comprehensive and effective service delivery in the institutions;  child-friendly structures that promote reporting of abuses by children with disabilities; and effective monitoring and accountability systems that allow the detection, and addressing of violence in care institutions.

 

It should ensure that service development in child protection and the formulation and implementation of a holistic child protection policy must be based on a robust consultation and engagement process with all key stakeholders including communities, statutory workers, non government organisations, all levels of government, and academic and research institutions. The process must, most importantly, include the input of children, including children with disabilities.

Most importantly, the policy must be in the best interests of the child.

 

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