The blizzard of brickbats that has been flying between civil society and government with the support of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) in the past week over the issue of child abuse by politicians and political activists ignites a critical point of debate on the issue of children’s rights, double standards and hypocrisy.
THE ORACLE BY TANGAI CHIPANGURA
To begin with, there is no doubt that it is wrong and illegal for anybody or any organisation to seek to advance their interests, political or otherwise, at the expense of children. There is also no doubt that the law, throughout the world, gives children the right of association, among many other rights.
What appears to be the bone of contention in this particular case is the nature of the gathering that took place at Africa Unity Square in Harare two weeks ago during the commemoration of the disappearance of journalist-cum-activist Itai Dzamara. The father of two young children disappeared without trace after he was abducted by armed men driving an unmarked car in his hood of Glen View about one-and-half years ago.
Organisers of the event said it was a peaceful commemoration of Dzamara’s forced disappearance at the hands of alleged state agents. Their argument in support of the participation of minors at the event is that the children involved were Dzamara’s children and their friends. They said there was no danger anticipated since this was a peaceful, solemn celebration — a remembrance of the day the children’s father went missing.
Being thus — a peaceful celebration albeit a sombre one — the organisers argue it was within the rights of Dzamara’s children and their friends to take part. They say no one can claim to be more affected by the disappearance of Dzamara than his children.
The two children, a boy and a girl, are aware that their father was taken away from them against his will and that his disappearance is the cause of their present predicament.
The two, together with their mother, look out every day with the hope that Dzamara will be returned home to them. It would, therefore, be an infringement of their rights of association to bar them from taking part in a peaceful process that could lead to the restoration of their normal lives.
To buttress their “peaceful remembrance” argument, the organisers brought to the event flowers and cake and not stones or any other weapons. The children proceeded to offer the flowers and cake to the riot police that were monitoring the ceremony as a gesture of friendship and peace.
The police responded by turning away, leaving the anniversary proceedings to go and sit in their vehicles. As a result, the ceremony proceeded and ended peacefully, without incident.
The following day however, government, through the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, came out guns blazing, accusing the organisers of the commemoration of using children as human shields against police batons. The minister, Prisca Mupfumira, was apparently convinced the event was supposed to meet with police brutality and that, therefore, the children who came for the event or were brought there by their parents and guardians were placed in danger of the police.
The minister then urged the police to investigate and take action against the organisers of the event for allegedly violating the children’s rights and putting their lives in danger. The police obliged and chief superintendent Paul Nyathi, the police spokesperson, promised the activists’ “dirty tactics” would be investigated.
Two days later, Unicef’s Zimbabwe office weighed in and castigated the organisers of the Dzamara commemoration for allegedly using children for political purposes. This move by Unicef was immediately blasted by many in civil society who accused the international body of hypocrisy and shameful double standards.
They cited countless incidents in public record where hundreds of children — not a handful that came to Africa Unity Square — have been forced to abandon school in order to attend political rallies addressed by President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and or by other Zanu PF officials all over the country.
The rallies were not to address education or children’s issues. They are political rallies where nothing was said about the welfare or education of the children. The minors are forced to sit in the sun and without food for many hours, waiting for the arrival of the politicians.
In many cases when they finally arrived, the politicians, especially the First Lady, would be spewing out acrid political venom against political enemies, often in lurid and vulgar profanities. Many times such obscenities and hate language is pronounced in the vernacular language that is not lost to the poor children who are made to sit there, listen and watch in shock as their parents cheer, clap hands and ululate.
Now, can there be more wicked abuse of children than that? Even today, stored in media archives, is a picture of Zanu PF national political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, kneeling beside a child who is likely seven years old, microphone in hand and teaching the child how to chant the Zanu PF slogan. The bewildered child is seen in his grey school uniform, punching the air with his little fist as he attempts the Zanu PF slogan. Meanwhile, all the thousands of pairs of eyes, including the First Lady, are on him applauding wildly at this dreadful abuse of a child.
Scores of police, including very senior officers, are there too witnessing this blatant act of abuse but all they do is grin and clap hands with everyone else. There is no “dirty tactics” to investigate here because the child is being taught a Zanu PF slogan, which includes declaration of death to opponents of the party —“Pasi naTsvangirai [down with Tsvangirai]!”
Press reports of countless such incidents are published together with pictures of thousands of children sitting in the sun and chanting party slogans. but Unicef has not seen anything wrong and has, therefore, looked aside. The Kasukuwere picture with the toddler going through Zanu PF indoctrination made front pages of newspapers with captions such as, “Catching them young”, and Unicef officials and the police seem to have enjoyed the articles.
There was another such distasteful incident in early 2012 at a Zanu PF gala to celebrate Mugabe’s 88th birthday at a school in Chipinge. A child under the age of 10 was brought on stage to recite a poem denigrating MorganTsvangirai and his mother. The MDC-T leader was then Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
The language used in the poem was clearly the work of hateful adults — deep in brutal profanity. The poor child — she was proudly introduced as “Senator Samantha” — was brought to recite the poem well after midnight when others of her age had long retired to bed.
The incident was broadcast live on national television and there is no doubt Zimbabwe’s national police and Unicef officials watched this wicked child abuse. But, needless to say, they did and said nothing.
Up till now, I pray the child does not get to know the meaning of the contents of the poem she was made to recite. In another country, authors of that “poem” would have been jailed.
But the question is; what are we doing to our children? With election winds beginning to blow, Zimbabwe does not require irresponsible persons to politicise children. Politicians should desist from violating children’s rights and sacrificing other people’s children for their own selfish ends.
Adults are allowed to get carried away with bootlicking Mugabe to the ridiculous extent of proposing he be declared a tourist attraction as one minister did in the past, but let us just leave the children out of it!
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