By MIRIAM ZIMBA -
BESIDES the fundamental human rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution as well as the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, children have additional rights that protect their well-being.
Some of the international instruments that seek to protect the rights of children include the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC), and others.
In addition to basic human rights such as rights to food, clothing and shelter, Article 27 of the UNCRC states that the child has a right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
Other rights contained under this instrument include the child’s right to be protected from economic exploitation, while the State is obliged to ensure the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
The UNCRC is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights, which includes civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.
The four core principles of the UNCRC are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.
Every right spelled out in the Convention is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child.
The Convention protects children’s rights by setting standards in health care, education, and legal, civil and social services.
Although there is no standard definition of a child in Zambia, it largely depends on the legal definitions.
The Penal Code defines a child as anyone below the age of 16 years, while the Intestate Succession Act defines a child as one aged from birth with no maximum age, while the Juvenile Act defines such as anyone below 19 years.
Because of this, there is need to harmonise Zambian legislation with signed and ratified international instruments.
Child Protection Unit (CPU) senior out-reach officer, under the Zambia Police Service Glenda Mulenga explained that child protection refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect children’s rights, safeguarding and promoting their welfare.
In defining this, Ms Mulenga explains that child protection encompasses a comprehensive document on the rights of the child as formulated in several international charters, to which Zambia ratified the UNCRC in December 1991.
By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the Convention (by ratifying or acceding to it), national governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring that children’s rights were up-held and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community.
States who are parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child.
Built on varied legal systems and cultural traditions, the Convention is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations.
Despite all these pieces of legislature being in place, cases of violations of rights of children are still on the increase in Zambia, with over 6,000 girls defiled between 2010 and 2013 alone.
Mkushi District Hospital alone records at least one case of child abuse on a weekly basis, and these are just cases which are reported, with many more that go unreported.
However, there is renewed commitment among senior Government officials in Mkushi, to promote child protection interventions and fight child abuse in the district.
During a recent workshop held on child protection organised by PSAF, Mkushi District Commissioner Christopher Chibuye bemoaned the overwhelmingly high rate of child abuse in Mkushi and other parts of Zambia.
He noted that the problem would only be resolved through a joint efforts and a coordinated approach involving various stakeholders working in the district.
“What is unfortunate is that children are more prone to being abused in places that are deemed safe such as at homes and at school, this has to stop,” Mr Chibuye observed.
It is for this reason that Panos Institute of Southern Africa (PSAF) recently organised a media sensitisation training workshop to enhance reporting on matters of child protection.
PSAF executive director Lillian Kiefer explained that the media should be more proactive in reporting in a manner that will help to curb child abuse from re-occurring.
She is concerned that despite Zambia having laws which provide for stiffer punishment of child defilers, the cases have continued to rise.
“Then the question is why should it be so, and who is protecting the perpetrators?” she asked.
Ms Kiefer emphasised the need for coordination across sectors as a key in ensuring comprehensive child comprehensive.
“Each and every one of us has a responsibility to protect children and support them to grow into productive and responsible citizens. As PSAf, we are glad to note that there are a number of systems, policies and programmes on child protection in Zambia, but in most cases these are not adequately enforced or operationalised,” she noted.
The United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF)’s mission is to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.
UNICEF is guided in doing this by the provisions and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
At community level, people tend to protect the perpetrators, at the expense of the long lasting impact this kind of abuse has on the physical, psychological and social well-being of the child.
These are just cases for one district and these are reported cases, what about those which go unreported.
Effective child protection is essential as part of wider work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
Children’s rights are human rights, and deserve to be protected, and like the old Bemba adage says, “Imiti Ikula empanga”, translated to mean children are the future leaders of tomorrow.