One of the greatest milestones that we as Zimbabweans pride ourselves in for the year 2013 is the adoption of a homegrown Constitution.
We all are bound by the collective duty we enshrined the new constitution to uphold the rights of children.
The previous Constitution did not have a section on child rights despite the fact that the nation had signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, but thanks be to the caring fathers and mothers of this country we have Section 19 and 81 in the new Constitution which clearly spell out the rights of children and the obligation of all the duty bearers.
Section 19 paragraph 1 of the new Constitution states that: “The State must adopt policies and measures to ensure that in matters relating to children, the best interest of the children concerned are paramount.”
Matters relating to children go beyond what the sentence in the supreme law could cover in words and come down to our families, schools, work places and media.
We sometimes are even afraid of discussing or addressing such issues as inheritance ,separation from parents, alternative care, basic education for vulnerable children, supporting children living with HIV in platforms where children are to be consulted in fact we always endorse that tradition should be followed or any other guiding religious or cultural values should be imposed.
Best interests of the child are not what many parents and guardians are afraid of, that is letting off the reigns and giving in to the ever increasing demands of the wishful and youthful demands of the child.
It is important to understand that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child article 3 paragraph 1 states that: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, court of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
This concept can only be fully applied if there are proper rights based approaches that will engage all actors to secure the wholesome integrity of the child and promote his or her human dignity.
Commenting on the rule of procedure on defining Child’s best interest, Musa Chibwana the Programs Manager at Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children; stated that whenever a decision is to be made that will affect a specific child, an identified group of children or just children general, the decision-making process must include an evaluation of the possible impact (positive or negative) of the decision on the child or children concerned.
This is an affirmation of the UNCRC General comment 14 (2013) in which the committee agreed on the substantive right of the child’s best interest as a primary consideration.
The Committee underlines that assessing the child’s best interests is a unique activity that should be undertaken in each individual case, in the light of specific circumstances of each child or group of children or children in general.
Circumstances such as, inter alia, age, sex, level of maturity, experience, belonging to a minority group, having a physical, sensory or intellectual disability, presence or absence of parents, the quality of relationship between the child and his or her family or care givers,environmental safety and the existence of quality alternative means available to the family extended family or caregivers are some of the peculiar individual characteristics the child or children may find themselves in.
It is, therefore, imperative to not that the concept of the child’s best interest can be complex, but should be adjusted and defined on an individual basis, according to the specific situation of the child or children concerned taking into consideration their personal context, situation and needs.
In solving conflicts or in the case of divorce, sometimes the authorities focus on the adults who are warring and splitting.
However, the UNCRC General Comment 14 (2013) endorsed that in such cases, attention must be placed on identifying possible solutions which are in the child’s best interests and the State has the obligation to clarify the concept especially in vulnerable situation.
It is clear that in many cases children are not able to express their interests explicitly let alone being aware of their own primary interests and this gives the duty bearers the role of safeguarding the well being of the voiceless children in cases of expression of interest as the primary consideration.
It is the children’s constitutional right to be protected adequately by the courts and in particular by the High Court as their upper guardian Child rights and primary consideration of the best interest of the child does not dismiss the responsibility of the African child neither is it a creation of selfish and perpetually childish new crop of Africans.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) article 31 clearly states that every child shall have responsibilities towards his family and society, the State and other legally recognised communities and international community.
Responsibilities include among many others, to work for the cohesion of the family, to respect his parents, superiors and elders at all times and to assist them in case of need.
It is, therefore, a primary consideration to see the African child rising above all the challenges the continent may be facing and become an epitome of strength and resilience celebrated and protected by the State, parents and guardians; and all those in involved in his or her welfare.
Fredrick Rafomoyo is the communications officer at the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children