The issue of sustainable development for children in Africa continue to stick out like a sore thumb.
Most children in Africa face a myriad of problems such as abuse, early marriages, drug abuse, forced labour, trafficking and prostitution.
Ironically, Zimbabwe last week joined Africa in commemorating the Day of the African Child under the theme “Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities towards fulfilling agenda 2030 for sustainable development for children in Africa”.
This year’s commemorations also marked the silver jubilee of the junior parliament whose opening coincides with the Day of African Child.
The theme has a lot of bearing in most African countries, which are failing to fulfil sustainable development for children.
Zimbabwe and most African countries are signatories to instruments that protect the girl child.
These include the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which was adopted by the African Union in 1990 and enforced in 1991.
The Charter covers civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children.
Article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child makes specific references to harmful social and cultural practices.
It states that member countries shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices affecting the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child.
It further states that child marriages shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage as 18 and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory.
But in Zimbabwe, we still hear and see young girls being married before they reach the age of consent with those behind such acts roming freely.
Young girls are dropping out of school because of early marriages.
The country has laws such as the Children’s Act (Chapter 5:06), the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 and the Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16) which deal, in one way or the other, with the rights and welfare of children.
In addition, the Constitution of Zimbabwe also provides for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms for all Zimbabwean, children included.
On the international arena, Zimbabwe is party to a number of instruments that protects the rights of children.
Therefore, the Constitution of Zimbabwe should be read in conjunction with the following:
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the sale of children.
Child prostitution and Child Pornography, the African Charter on the rights and Welfare of the Child
Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.
In order fulfil the 2030 agenda for sustainable development for children in Africa, there is need to harmonize laws with the national Constitution in order to make it easy to prosecute offenders.
The Constitution defines children as persons below the age of 18 years.
However, the Customary Act makes it difficult to handle child marriages.
The issues of child prostitution haunts Africa and the world.
Globally, it is estimated that about 10 million children under the age of 18 years participate in prostitution related activities.
Furthermore, United Nations statistics show that an estimated one million children are forced into prostitution every year.
According to the United Nations Children Rights Commission (UNCRC), and its Optional Protocol on the sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography prohibits “the act of obtaining, procuring or offering the services of a child or inducing a child to perform sexual acts for any form of compensation or reward.
However, an increasing number of Zimbabwean children are exposed to pornographic material on social media or the internet.
The threat to morality has seen calls for Government to speed up the cyber-crime law becoming louder.
Therefore as we commemorate the Day of the African Child, it is high time we put our Government and other relevant stakeholders to task.
It is time to move away from the habit of speeches without implementing issues being raised by children and the youth.
There is need for the relevant ministry to accelerate harmonisation and enactment of laws that protect the girl and boy child.
Children are calling for practicalities that will protect their wellbeing as they are leaders of tomorrow.
As such, there is need to embrace a participatory approach whenever Government is crafting policy or laws that affect the children. There is need to move away from the stereotypical attitude of neglecting children in decisions that affect them.
In addition, there is need to educate communities, especially on the rights and responsibilities of children.
Information is key in ensuring that child protection systems begin to function at grassroots level.