“Children of Today, Our Keepers Tomorrow”
Every year November 20, is Universal Children’s Day. The day is marked to not only celebrate children but to raise awareness on the responsibility we all have to ensure that children have safe and healthy childhoods. The day was marked as a UN International Day in order to celebrate the adoption of both the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989). This year, the day is running under the theme “Children of today, our keepers tomorrow”.
Children’s Constitutional Rights
The rights that children have are wide. From the right to education to healthcare to the right to play under international law. The Zimbabwean Constitution specifically addresses children’s rights in Section 19 where all decisions pertaining to the child must be made in the best interests of the child. The rest of the section addresses how children have a right to shelter, a right to basic nutrition, access to education and appropriate training. Child labour is prohibited and the physical, spiritual , moral and social development of the child is encouraged. 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 Key To All Rights
According to UNICEF, 48% of our current population in Zimbabwe consists of children. Roughly, we have about 6 million children in the country and of that number about 72% or 4.5 million live in the rural areas. Only about 24% of children have their births registered in rural areas and about 79% in urban areas. Although the data is difficult to gather, UNICEF in 2017 said that only about 32% of children in the nation actually have birth certificates overall. The numbers are alarming and are a serious cause for concern.
Birth registration allows for a child to acquire a birth certificate. Birth certificates are the gateway to the realisation of most of the rights afforded to children in section 19 of the Constitution. Without a birth certificate, a child cannot write national or international examinations. The child’s right to education is limited. Without a birth certificate a child has a limited right to healthcare and without a birth certificate a child cannot grow up to vote, a child has limited choices in profession and he/she cannot get birth certificates for his/her future children. And so the same problem perpetuates across generations. The realisation of all rights hinges on the possession of a birth certificate. A child who is not registered does not legally exist, is not officially recognised as a citizen of the country and runs a substantial risk of falling outside the reach of Government’s protective measures towards her/him.
Our Keepers Tomorrow
As we commemorate this day today and as a party to the Convention that promises to do the best that it can for children, may we remember the true meaning of the UN theme.
The number of children without birth certificates is overwhelming. Preliminary findings from the Zimbabwe Human Right Commission’s Inquiry on Access to Documentation has revealed that many parents are leaving the country for greener pastures outside the country leaving children unregistered. We cannot expect our children to be keepers of tomorrow if we do not afford them this simple document which unlocks the gate to all their rights.
Following enquiries done by other organisations, the Registrar-General’s Office presented to Parliament that it is doing all it can to better the situation. We hold the office accountable to its words. The birth certificate situation is in dire need of fixing.
To call for children’s rights to be celebrated or even observed would be trite without speaking on the pandemic of lack of documentation. We urge every player, both parents and the government to actively participate to turn around the statistics. We cannot govern for today and not equip our children for tomorrow.