Saturday, September 17, 2011

Zimbabwe welcomes youth voices in constitutional review


By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 30 September 2010 – Among his peers, Simba Chikukwa, 13, is hardly noticeable. His small stature is overshadowed by the others. It is only when he stands up to speak that all eyes and ears focus on the young man from Gutu district, some 250 km from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.
VIDEO: 23 September 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on the special children’s consultative outreach programme conducted in Zimbabwe by the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee, with support from UNICEF. Watch in RealPlayer
Speaking with skill and confidence, Simba is helping to ensure that the voices of thousands of other children in Zimbabwe can be heard and considered. Zimbabwe is currently redrafting its constitution and young people will play an integral role in the process.
Children represent children
“As children, we are often excluded when decisions about our lives are being made,” said Simba. “We hope that this new constitution will guarantee every right that we have as children and ensure that we do not suffer because of the choices, decisions and beliefs of our parents or elders.” 
Zimbabwe’s constitution is currently being reviewed as part of the Global Political Agreement signed by the three main political parties in September 2008 and young people are actively being included in the process. 
© UNICE/2010/Mutseyekwa
Simba Chikukwa, left, speaks during a children’s national consultative outreach programme in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Simba was among the more than 160 children from across Zimbabwe who were part of a special children’s national consultative outreach programme, which was conducted in Harare by the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) with support from UNICEF. The young people called for a new constitution guaranteeing the rights and best interests of every child – especially with regard to education, religion, health and social protection.
The abolition of corporal punishment in schools, free and equitable access to education, mandatory immunization, the elimination of discrimination and freedom of speech were among other main issues which the children identified as key to ensuring that their rights are well protected through the new constitution. 
Contributing to the process
The participating children – representing all 63 districts of Zimbabwe – were drawn from the Zimbabwe Junior Parliament, representatives from the Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs’ capacity building programme, and children from special interest groups including those living with HIV, children with disabilities and children living on the streets. 
“The children have been consulted and rightfully so, as they constitute a majority of Zimbabwe’s population,” said Minister of Youth Development, Indigenization and Empowerment, Hon. Saviour Kasukuwere. 
© UNICEF/2010/Mutseyekwa
Minister of Youth Development, Indiginisation and Empowerment Hon. Saviour Kasukuwere (left) and UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama.
Not only powerful orators like Simba contributed to the consultation process. Children were encouraged to voice their ideas directly to the Consultative Outreach Team through a combination of games, small group discussions and formal parliamentary debates – an innovative and child-friendly departure from the formal consultation process that is available to adult Zimbabweans.
“Children’s voices and contribution to the constitution-making process is critical,” said UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Dr. Peter Salama. “All Zimbabwean children have a legitimate claim to make contributions to this process.”
Dr. Salama commended the Government of Zimbabwe for its “bold undertaking,” adding that “the issues tabled in the constitution will affect [children’s] lives today and in future.”
Guaranteed a voice
“Traditional practice has generally not considered children’s opinions and views to be important,” said COPAC Co-Chairperson Hon. Paul Munyaradzi Mangwana. “But we have decided that in this historic process, their views should be considered because children are the future.
© UNICE/2010/Mutseyekwa
Children at Zimbabwe's national consultative outreach programme used games and other techniques to highlght important issues in country's new constitution.
“COPAC is committed to its mandate of producing a true people-driven constitution,” he added.
At the conclusion of the programme, children presented COPAC with a formal record of their discussions and recommendations. In accepting the official submissions, COPAC Co-Chairperson Hon. Douglas Mwonzora guaranteed the children that their contributions would find their way into the chapters of Zimbabwe’s constitution.
“By including children in the constitution making process, Zimbabwe is bench-marking itself against the best in the world,” said Mr. Mwonzora. “The participation of children in this process has certainly marked a victory for human rights and children’s rights in Zimbabwe.”