Introduction and background
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) is mandated to monitor the observance of human rights and freedoms by Section 243 (1) (c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act 2013. According to the Principles relating to the Status of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) (Paris Principles, 1993), NHRIs such as ZHRC have the general responsibility to submit to the Government, Parliament and any other competent body, on an advisory basis, opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports on any matter concerning the promotion and protection of human rights. It is against this background that ZHRC conducted an assessment of enjoyment of the Right to Education in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic. This followed statements issued by Government with regards to the progressive re-opening of schools which were prematurely closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pronouncement of COVID 19 as a national disaster, ZHRC has been monitoring the human rights environment across the country, and issuing statements which highlight the prevailing human rights situation. From the 1st to the 5th of June 2020, ZHRC focused attention on assessment of the preparedness of the education sector to re-open schools during the COVI-19 pandemic. This assessment looked at enjoyment of the right to education vis-à-vis enjoyment of rights to health and life. The ZHRC sampled government, mission, council owned and elite private schools in Harare, Bulawayo, Norton, Chegutu, Kadoma, Mhondoro, Marondera, Rusape, Nyazura, Nyanga, Chinhoyi, Karoi, Bindura, Masvingo, Murewa, Mutoko, Chiweshe, Goromonzi among others.
In its assessment, ZHRC established a serious conflict of rights between education, health and life. Since human rights are by their very nature inter-dependent and indivisible, the question is which right/s should take precedence over the others? This human rights dilemma is further compounded by the fact that Government closed schools when the country only had four (4) confirmed cases of the pandemic but a decision is being made to re-open schools when cases have spiralled beyond three hundred (300). This brings to question, the issue of the best interests of the child as enshrined in Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 3 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and Section 81 (2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. These provisions reiterate that the best interests of the child should be paramount in every matter concerning the child.
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Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC)