THERE is no better time to think of a child than in winter.

I still remember we would walk for 7km to school without shoes and wearing limited warm clothes.

This other time, at Tinde Primary School, in Binga, I arrived late for school, and the teacher hit my picked nails with a chalkboard duster. That literally disoriented me. Those were the hard times I remember as a toddler.

Life becomes even harder for children without parents. It is painful. I am made to think of a child who lives on the street or a child who accompanies their mother to vend on the street where winter temperatures hit less than eight degrees.

Such is life and we need to think about a child for a moment. Nothing brings a tear than seeing a child in pain and helpless.

Today, I write this article with Tinaye Agoro who is an expert on child matters. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Development Studies and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education with her research focused on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. She has a background in Sociology.

Safety and protection

A child's safety and protection should be a priority for every parent or caregiver. In today's world, child safety and protection demand our unwavering attention.

No child deserves to feel unsafe and unprotected. In the context of Zimbabwe in terms of culture and religion, this topic must be given a lot of light at household level.

Children deserve nothing less than a safe haven in which they can grow, learn and thrive. Achieving this requires a multi-faceted approach that combines knowledge, vigilance and effective communication on the part of parents and caregivers. But how can we accomplish this?

Trust and open communication

Parents and caregivers must establish a solid foundation of trust and open communication.

Encouraging our little ones to express their thoughts, fears, concerns and accomplishments openly creates an environment of unwavering support, unconditional love and empowerment.

It is through regular conversations about personal safety, boundaries and potential risks that we equip our children with the necessary tools to navigate life’s challenges.

As a mother or father, consistently engage your children in discussions about personal space, privacy and appropriate ways to physically express love.

For example, they must understand that no one should touch their private parts and that display of affection should be limited to hugs or kisses on the cheeks and hands.

In the context of Zimbabwe, the consensus might be that they are too young to be learning these things.

However, survivors of several incidences of molestation, even in teenage years, always remind us of the consequences of not understanding personal boundaries and also the lack of a safe space in the home to discuss such sensitive issues.

Personal boundaries and consent

Parents and caregivers must be at the forefront of teaching children about personal boundaries and consent, starting from an early age.

We need  to empower our children to understand their rights over their own bodies and the importance of respecting the boundaries of others.

Encourage children firstly to define their boundaries within their bodies. In addition to that, as a parent/caregiver, you need to respect those boundaries regardless of what they are.

One student indicated that one of their personal body boundaries was their ears.

They indicated that they feel uncomfortable if someone touches their ears. It may sound like a joke, but true to fact, there is need to respect that.

In terms of consent, it is important to teach children to seek consent before entering someone’s personal space, holding hands or engaging in any physical contact.

Children must learn the importance of asking permission and accepting that it is absolutely acceptable if someone declines.

We reinforce this principle continuously, ensuring that they can apply it beyond the confines of our family.

The key is to respect the boundary because if you do not respect the boundary, they will think that it is okay for someone to invade their personal space.

Take it this way: If you do not respect their boundaries, how will they report a violation? In the present world, consent is a paramount issue and we should resolutely instil in our children the value of seeking and respecting consent.

We should actively teach them to use assertive phrases like “No”, “Stop”, and “I don’t like it” when they feel uncomfortable, emphasising the importance of expressing themselves respectfully.

We must also teach them that when someone declines an advance, you should stop, so that they also learn to respect others.

By doing so, we empower our children to advocate for their own safety and navigate challenging situations with unwavering confidence.

Children’s rights

Children might be weak, vulnerable and helpless, but they still have rights.

These rights include the right to shelter, family environment, free from abuse, nutrition, healthcare, safety and education.

This applies to children with disabilities and those who have lost parents. In the context of Zimbabwe, we have parents going abroad seeking a livelihood and at times they leave their children in the care of other people.

Such children might be prone to all forms of abuse, but it will take the caregiver or guardian to love that child and take care of them.

Remember, you might also want to leave your child in the care of other people.

Parting point

Child safety and protection demand our unwavering commitment as parents and caregivers. The future is secure if we groom children in a hospitable way.

By cultivating trust, open communication and a profound understanding of personal boundaries and consent, we can create a secure environment where our children can truly thrive.

Let us acknowledge the urgency of this matter and join forces in ensuring the well-being and safety of our beloved children. Charity begins at home: In all manner of speaking. Let this practice begin at home.