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Govt must toughen stance against apostolic sects

However, it seems the programme was shunned by some members of the apostolic sects due to religious beliefs, if the recent outbreak is anything to go by.

Yesterday’s edition of NewsDay carried a story of an appeal by a child rights organisation to the government to clamp down on apostolic sects and religious groups that shun medical care.

The call by these groupings comes after an outbreak of measles and mumps claimed the lives of more than 30 children in Hurungwe amid revelations that a number of children of apostolic sect members have not been vaccinated.

Esnara Kativhu, programme lead at girl child rights group Shamwari Yemwanasikana, said her organisation was “deeply concerned about the ongoing neglect of children's health and well-being by certain apostolic sects in Hurungwe district, Mashonaland West province.

“The recent measles outbreak, which tragically claimed the lives of over 30 children, highlights the urgent need for immediate action to protect the most vulnerable members of our society,” Kativhu said, adding that there was a need to engage with these apostolic sects, raising awareness about the importance of seeking medical treatment from qualified healthcare professionals.

This is not the first time there has been a disease outbreak among the apostolic sects. And, this will not be the last. What is worrying is the rate of which lives are being lost, especially among such groups which have religiously avoided vaccination.

The government last year rolled out a nationwide emergency immunisation programme targeting 95% of all children from 6 to 59 months and in some instances up to 15 years to attain herd immunity.

It also rolled out a blitz in previous years, which many ignored.

However, it seems the programme was shunned by some members of the apostolic sects due to religious beliefs, if the recent outbreak is anything to go by.

Prevention is better than cure, according to a famous statement attributed to Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. Prevention has been seen as a bulwark against diseases.

It is the duty of the government to ensure that every child accesses healthcare services. Section 81(1)(f) of the Constitution provides that [e]very child has the right to education, healthcare services, nutrition and shelter.

However, the Zanu PF-led government has been treating the apostolic sects with kid gloves as they are its major support base during elections.

On a number of occassions, the apostolic sects have been “allowed” to violate national laws. They disregarded the COVID-19 protocols by holding annual meetings at a time when the pandemic was claiming lives.

Some members of the apostolic sects have the audacity to deny their children education and promote child marriages.

Article 1 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child  states that  “any custom, tradition, cultural or religious practice that is inconsistent with the rights, duties and obligations contained in the present charter shall to the extent of such inconsistency be discouraged.

The same charter compels States to reduce infant and child mortality rates and to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and healthcare to all children with emphasis on the development of primary healthcare.

It cannot be business as usual when lives are being lost.

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