Friday, June 17, 2016

International Day of the African Child 2016

The day of the African Child 

The 16th of June commemorated the International Day of the African Child across the globe. This day was designated by the African Union in 1991 to reemphasise the importance of the rights of African children and to bring awareness to the problems facing children across the continent. African children across our continent are presented by severe danger now more than ever. In Nigeria Boko Haram continues to attack villages within the North East of Nigeria. In Libya civil war continues to rage on and in neighbouring Egypt continued instability threatens the lives of young children. The East of Africa does not fare much better than their West and North African counterparts with continued civil war in Northern Uganda and increased instability at the Ethiopian and Eritrean borders. 

Although currently less conflict prone Southern Africa is also faced by numerous crises. Since 2014 Southern African countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Malawi have suffered prolonged periods of drought and crop failure due to the effects of El Nino. El Nino refers to the abnormal warming of water temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean that result in extreme changes in climate around the globe. The El Nino phenomenon has been worsened by climate change.  According to the Food Aid Organization (FAO), Southern Africa has been hit by the worst El Nino event in the last 50 years. Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe have all declared national disasters due to the severe drought, consequent crop failure and food shortages. With this is mind it is important to remember that in every conflict and crisis that currently faces African countries it is the children that suffer the most. Children are our most valuable assets but also our most vulnerable. Conflict and crisis have made it difficult to ensure that children’s rights as stipulated by the legal frameworks of the African Charter of Children’s Rights (ACCR) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCR) are respected. The purpose of reflecting on the condition of our continent is not to champion the narrative of the doomed African continent but to emphasize the plight of children across our entire continent.  

 At Nhaka Foundation we have witnessed the effects of El Nino and climate change on children’s rights to adequate and culturally appropriate food in our own country Zimbabwe first hand. During our interactions with teachers within the Goromonzi district many recount how students walk long distances of about 8 kilometers to and from school having had nothing to eat. The situation is so bad that some pupils arrive at school so hungry that they faint. The responsibility to protect and to ensure that children are protected in crisis is not just up to the government and organizations but to society at large. As the old African saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Many repeat the age old statement “children are the future”. However, we forget that the quality of life children enjoy will influence the type of future they have and the leaders they become. A child’s situation today shapes their tomorrow.  

The IDAC is not only designated to bring awareness to the importance of protecting the rights of African children but also to celebrate their achievements and dignity. The majority of images that are disseminated by the media often misrepresent the African child. The images the world sees of African children are usually those of dirty, naked vulnerable or starving children, though true, this is not the only one side of the African Child’s story. African children are also strong, valuable members of the global community with so much more to contribute to the world if given the chance and opportunity. 

At Nhaka Foundation we believe that African children are just as important as any other children in the various parts of the world and they also deserve to be treated as such. On this day as we celebrate African children’s lives, their resilience and their achievements. Let us also honour and remember the memory of those African children whose lives were cut short whilst the world watched and those that endeavour to uphold the rights of all children.

Until next time,

Shona Musimbe
Media and Programs Intern

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A birth certificate: the Right to Identity

Dear Friends,

Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCR), of which Zimbabwe is a signatory, every child has the right to a name and a nationality. Under the birth and death Registration Act [5:02] of Zimbabwe it is mandatory to register the birth of a child within six weeks of their birth. The responsibility of registering the birth of a child is placed on the parents however society places this duty more on the mother. Under this law the occupier of the house the child is born in, headman in the village, caregiver, hospital officials, and any other person above 18 present at the birth can register the birth of a child.  Although a birth certificate may seem insignificant particularly to individuals who have them they serve many purposes and are essential to a child’s survival. 

Without a birth certificate children are vulnerable and susceptible to human trafficking by people who target vulnerable groups. Furthermore, without a birth certificate a child grows up stateless; meaning they do not belong to a nation and cannot vote, obtain any other national documents, be a beneficiary of certain state benefits, enrol into school or enter a civil marriage. To secure employment formally in Zimbabwe one requires an identity card and without a birth certificate as adults these children will not be able to take identity cards. Thus, without a birth certificate a child can never be formally employed as an adult. If a child under 18 without a birth certificate commits a serious crime and is liable to serve jail time the child will serve a sentence in a prison with adults as they cannot prove their age. Furthermore, there are certain sentences such as the death penalty that cannot be given to a child under 18. However, without a birth certificate to prove they are a child they can be sentenced to death. This document is therefore, an important tool in ensuring that children’s rights are respected in a court of law. Despite the importance of this document, according to UNICEF, one- in- three children under the age of five in the world are denied this right and do not have birth certificates.  According to a 1998 study done by UNICEF globally, rural populations have less access to legal registration and rural children are among the highest numbers without birth certificates. 

Recently, the Nhaka Foundation programs team held a parenting meeting at Mwanza Primary School in conjunction with the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) to discuss the issue of birth certificates affecting the community. During this meeting parents themselves also expressed how a birth certificate secures rights to a lot of other documents such as a passport. In addition, many children without birth certificates in the Goromonzi area have had to drop out of school when they reach Grade 7 or are sent back to lower grades because they cannot register for the ZIMSEC examination.  A representative of the Legal Resources Foundation pointed out that, often parents realise the importance of this document too late such as when it is required for the child to register for the national final primary examination at grade 7 or when a child is meant to travel abroad. LRF also explained to parents that a birth certificate allows children to participate in national sports activities and when they are older they may be able to participate in global events. Without a birth certificate young children are vulnerable not only today but also in future. An education is a valuable asset but without a birth certificate many opportunities will be closed off. 

One issue that must not be overlooked is the role of parents and families. Children‘s development and their future successes are integrally linked to their families and parents. Speaking to parents at Mwanza revealed that parents wanted to secure this right for their children but there were several obstacles that prevented them. Each situation was unique and often complicated. Some parents explained that they did not have birth certificates themselves, and had no living relatives to attest to the fact that they knew of their birth parents and birthplace. Others were guardians of children whose living relatives had abandoned them or whose parents had died. 

In situations where a child does not have a birth certificate the role of the parent is paramount as they must not give up in order to secure their child’s future. Parents must attempt to pursue all avenues in order to ensure that their children have this right although processes may often be complicated and long. Parents must look ahead and at the end goal that a birth certificate will give their children an opportunity to succeed. At Nhaka Foundation we believe in leaving an inheritance for the next generation that will help them in their own endeavours and aid them in reaching their full potential long after their parents and guardians are long gone. A birth certificate is part of leaving a lasting legacy for the next generation. 

Until next time,

Shona Musimbe,
Programs/Media Intern

Nhaka Foundation