IT was Rajneesh who said: “The innocence of children is their wisdom, the simplicity of children is their egolessness. The freshness of the child is the freshness of your consciousness, which never becomes old, which always remains young.”
By Paul Kaseke
This piece focuses on keeping that innocence of children and the role of children in politics and the upcoming elections in general.
I have noted with great concern the increasing use of children as crowd fillers at rallies — across the political spectrum.
This is a matter I feel deeply concerned about because at such a stage of their lives, children should be kept away from the mudslinging politics and insults that have characterised our political landscape for decades now.
Apart from the toxicity of our politics, our children should be left to focus on their studies and just be children.
There should never be a point where we close schools to accommodate political rallies or where children are asked to leave the classroom to attend political rallies, regardless of the party in question. It is wrong and should be stopped now.
If parties want to use school halls for rallies, then they must do so after hours, without disrupting classes and certainly compelling children to attend.
It is easy to create political stooges from children because they are ever so trusting and perhaps gullible — they do anything to please.
I am not suggesting that parties use the children for sinister reasons, but I am saying that it creates the possibility of abuse of our children.
It doesn’t have to happen before we act — the slightest or even most remote hint of this should be enough to rethink the role of children in our campaigns.
Once upon a time, I was a member of the Junior Parliament programme and was being prepared by individuals who will not be named in this piece, to enter mainstream politics as a potential youth leader.
During the time, I had access to the office of the Minister of Youth, who took a keen interest in me and invited me to address gatherings as the poster boy for “youth leadership”.
At the time, some members of the Ministry of Youth and Zimbabwe Youth Council told me of various theories and reasons to condemn opposition parties and I genuinely bought into them.
I was indoctrinated with knowledge of party structures, hierarchy and partisan views before I knew how to solve quadratic expressions.
Thankfully, my parents were wise enough to get me out of that environment to pursue university studies before I was roped in. If it had not been for that, I would be in a different situation altogether.
This is just a real-life example on how impressionable and excitable a child can be. I was there before and it all started with a rally.
It borders on child abuse to even ask these children to recite praise poems for certain political leaders.
One thing that was characteristic of former President Robert Mugabe’s rallies was the presence of children who would be called to praise the President by his totem and shower him with praises as the revolutionary leader sent to free Zimbabwe.
There is of course no guessing that such praise poems and speeches were written for them and the poor children had to memorise and repeat things they did not understand and, in some cases, things they did not agree to.
That must stop. Whether it is being done by Zanu PF or the MDC Alliance, it does not change the fact that it is morally reprehensible.
Beyond that, as I will explain below, it is unconstitutional for this to happen.
This goes against the Constitution in many respects.
First, the State has a duty to ensure that children do not perform work or services that are inappropriate for their age or that place them at risk in terms of their well-being, education or development in terms of section 19(3)(b).
Second, everyone is entitled to freedom of conscience in terms of s 60, but this is ostensibly violated by forcing children to attend political rallies where ideologies are forced into them especially in the case of reciting poetic propaganda or even sitting through the same propaganda.
Most importantly s81(h) of the Constitution expressly prohibits children from being compelled to take part in any political activity.
Having been in the same system myself some years back, I know very well that for school children, attendance at such events is out of compulsion.
Political parties and their leaders must respect that children have child issues to worry about rather than force them to attend rallies and recite propaganda.
It reminds me that fascists made use of this strategy, hence, Adolf Hitler had his Hitler Boys and Hitler Girls Brigade.
Again, I am not insinuating that any of the parties are using children for the same sinister purposes Hitler did, but I am cautioning that if left unchecked, this could be a reality.
Politics is not a place for children and certainly children should not be used to achieve propaganda goals.
Let the children be children and leave them out of politics. There is a reason why children are not allowed to vote until they reach a certain age, and this is the same reason why they have a lot of other restrictions.
At that age, they are vulnerable to exploitation and this is probably why the drafters of the Constitution sought it wise to specifically address this matter in our Constitution.
The challenge now remains for political parties to demonstrate their will in giving effect to these constitutional imperatives.
Let’s let adults be adults and children be children as we get into the electioneering spirit . . . just saying!
Paul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, analyst and former law lecturer with the Wits Law School & Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute). He serves as director and current group chair of AfriConsult Firm. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @paulkasekesnr