THE Zambia Civic Education Association says 28 years after Zambia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, sexual, emotional and physical abuses are daily occurrences to most children.
Executive director Judith Mulenga said in a statement on the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which fell on November 20 that labouring to provide for families, even parents, was the daily responsibility for child vendors, child miners and child farmers.
Mulenga said the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989.
She said the convention was written to ensure that childhood was a safe, nurturing, enabling and empowering period in every person’s life.
“On a continuum, the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides every child with protection at birth and leads to autonomy at the child’s 18th birthday. The Convention is also the most ratified human rights instruments out of all the instruments that have been developed with now all countries except for the USA having ratified the instrument,” she said.
“This means that all governments globally are agreed that every child, for its ‘full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’ and that ‘the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society and brought up in the spirit of peace dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.’”
However, Mulenga said 30 years after the convention’s adoption and nearly 28 years when Zambia ratified it on December 6, 1991, one still wonders what childhood was like for Zambian children.
“What are their real lived lives like? Sexual, emotional and physical abuses are daily occurrences to most children. Labouring to provide for families, even parents, is the daily responsibility for child vendors, child miners and child farmers! These children are in clear view of all of us but we choose to look the other way. Out of the public sight are children incarcerated as a first resort instead of the last resort for being suspected, alleged or found guilty of having breached the penal code,” she said.
“Why does Zambia have the lowest age for criminal responsibility at 8 years old in our region instead of the recommended 14 years? Does it make sense that this society thinks that a child who is 8 years old is criminally liable but public office can only be sought and held at 21 years of age and voting at 18 years?”
She said there were also children deprived of their liberty and family environments and were institutionalised because of being born with mental and other physical disabilities.
Mulenga said other children were being married off when they were still children.
“We all know that Zambia has one of the highest rates of child marriages with 31 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 years having married before their 18th birthday. A further 58.9 per cent of girls aged 15-19 years fall pregnant and have babies. What relief is there for such children? Birth registration is an important child right but many of our children are not registered at birth with only 11 per cent of children under the age of 5 registered at birth and only 4 per cent with birth certificates,” she said.
She said the tragedy was that being born in such environments children begin to think abuse and maltreatment is normal way of life.
“On adequate standard of living, Zambia is the 5th hungriest nation in the whole world! Who suffers these chronic hunger pangs in our society more? Our children because they cannot fend for themselves! Let us count these children that are hungry all the time. Our population is about 17 million. 53.4 per cent are children, 9 million. Out of the 17 million of us 54.4 per cent live below the national poverty line, meaning 9.3 million live in extreme poverty, eating one unbalanced meal a day,” she said.
“5 million of them are children who are perpetually starving! No surprise then that the rate of stunted growth in Zambia is at 35 per cent and under nourishment at 12 per cent and yet our current National Development Plan says ‘no one will be left behind!’ In terms of development, there are 800,000 children out of school who are supposed to be in school. After nearly achieving the millennium development [goal number] 2 of access to education in 2015 at 94 per cent in 2015 but in 2019 it is at 84 per cent,” she said.
She said the quality of education also left a lot to be desired with only five years of learners achieving the minimum level of proficiency in reading and two years in numeracy, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Programme for International Student Assessment.
Mulenga said the teacher:pupil ratio that had a huge bearing on quality of education was 1 to 61.9 in primary school and yet Zambia had 40,000 trained primary school teachers without jobs and the recruitment rate was only 2,000 teachers per year.
She said the budget allocation for education in 2020 was only 12.4 per cent instead of the recommended 20 per cent of the total budget.
“If we just take the allocation to the primary schools sector, which is the sector that encompasses the right to education, only K790,907.43 is allocated per primary school because as of 2017 Education Bulletin, there were 8,843 government primary schools in Zambia. For early childhood education is even worse as only K10,981,074 has been allocated when more than 2 million children, especially in the rural areas, need to access early childhood education which is only being accessed by about 700,000 children,” said Mulenga.
“Surely how can a country condemn its future safeguards to a life of ignorance? Who by now does not know that education is not only a right but by which other rights are enjoyed? Every person in leadership positions is there because of the education he or she has attained. Even the so-called God given positions, first God blessed one with education before He gave the positions! Therefore, our contention is that childhood in Zambia is a hazardous occupation.”