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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers the report of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe reviewed

19 January 2016

GENEVA (19 January 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of Zimbabwe on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 
Presenting the report, P.D. Parirenyatwa, Minister of Health and Child Care of Zimbabwe, said that the Constitution provided that all international conventions to which Zimbabwe was party were incorporated into domestic law.  The Government was in the process of aligning legislation protecting the rights of children, such as the Marriage Act.  Coordination was one of the major challenges affecting the efforts of the State in data collection.  A draft Child Rights Policy was in place in that regard, aimed at improving coordination of the implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on international and regional children’s rights.  The Social Welfare Act provided that parents could apply for assistance if their financial means were unsatisfactory.  Children below the age of seven were deemed to lack criminal capacity, and children between seven and 14 were presumed to lack capacity to form the intention to commit a crime.  The Government remained committed to respecting, supporting and promoting children’s rights and welfare.
Committee Experts, in the discussion which followed, asked numerous questions about the health of children in Zimbabwe, including malnutrition and stunting, prevalence of HIV/AIDS and the availability of antiretroviral therapies, vaccination campaigns and cooperation with international partners in that regard.  The issue of corporal punishment was discussed at length.  Experts wanted to know more about the existence of harmful traditional practices and the influence of traditional and religious communities, particularly the Apostolic Church, in that regard.  Ages of marriage and criminal responsibility were also brought up.  Other issues raised by Experts included the fact that education was largely not free of charge, foster and institutionalized care of children, birth registration, adoptions, availability of social welfare programmes and social workers across the country, as well as training of judges and police officers.
Kirsten Sandberg, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Zimbabwe, concluded by saying that the Committee looked forward to all the legislative amendments in the wake of the Constitution, and it was hoped that those could be sped up, for example, when it came to the ages of marriage and criminal responsibility.
Mr. Parirenyatwa, in his concluding remarks, stated that it had been a useful and stimulating exercise which had covered a wide array of issues on the promotion and protection of children’s rights.  The delegation had benefited tremendously from the probing questions by the Committee.
The delegation of Zimbabwe included representatives of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Ministry of Finance.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 20 January at 10 a.m., when Chamber A will consider the combined second to fourth periodic report of Zambia (CRC/C/ZMB/2-4), and Chamber B will consider the combined third to fifth periodic report of Benin (CRC/C/BE/3-5).  
The second periodic report of Zimbabwe can be found here: CRC/C/ZWE/2.
Presentation of the Report
P.D. PARIRENYATWA, Minister of Health and Child Care of Zimbabwe, said that the second periodic report should have been submitted and considered by the Committee much earlier.  Some information in the report had thus been overtaken by certain developments.  Zimbabwe remained committed to its obligations in terms of international and regional child rights instruments and norms to which it was subscribed, in sovereignty and voluntarily.  The report under consideration was the result of an extensive multi-sectoral consultative process, including civil society and development partners.
Zimbabwe was also a party to the first two Optional Protocols to the Convention.  In order to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights, the Government had established the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, which had taken over the human rights mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman.  The Commission could investigate the conduct of any authority or person, if it was alleged that any human rights had been violated.  The Constitution provided that all international conventions to which Zimbabwe was party were incorporated into domestic law.  The Government was in the process of aligning legislation protecting the rights of children, such as the Marriage Act; approximately 400 acts of Parliament had been identified and were currently undergoing the alignment process.  A number of policies safeguarding the rights of the child had been formulated and operationalised.
Coordination was one of the major challenges affecting the efforts of the State in data collection.  A draft Child Rights Policy was in place in that regard, aimed at improving coordination of the implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on international and regional children’s rights.  The Constitution defined a child as every boy or girl under the age of 18.  The best interest of the child principle was applied in various matters of family law.  The Children’s Act specifically prohibited the neglect or ill-treatment of children in any manner that would affect their health and morals.  No person might terminate a pregnancy unless it endangered the health of the mother, or in the case of rape or incest.  A child could make a complaint to the authorities through a number of provisions.  Every child born to a citizen of Zimbabwe was guaranteed prompt birth registration.  When it reached 16, the child was issued a national identity card.  The Social Welfare act provided that parents could apply for assistance if their financial means were unsatisfactory.  More than one quarter of children were not living with either parent, which was a matter of concern.
Provisions had been put in place to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  With respect to vaccines, the Pentavalent Vaccine had been introduced in 2010 and 2011.  Malaria remained a major health challenge, but there had been a reduction in the malaria incidence to less than 25 cases per 1,000 persons.  Zimbabwe had also made tremendous progress towards eradicating illiteracy and still maintained a literacy rate which was among the highest in Africa; young people between 15 and 19 had a literacy rate of 92 per cent.   Special protection measures were in place for children in situations of emergency, such as refugees, displaced children and children in conflict with the law.  Children below the age of seven were deemed to lack criminal capacity, and children between seven and 14 were presumed to lack capacity to form the intention to commit a crime.  Children under two whose mothers had been convicted and incarcerated accompanied their mothers in the prison. 
National data showed that nine per cent of female children and two per cent of male children between the age of 13 and 17 had suffered sexual violence in 2010/2011.  The Criminal Law Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act provided for the protection of children from trafficking.  The sale of any person was also prohibited.  Despite the current economic setbacks, the Government remained committed to respecting, supporting and promoting children’s rights and welfare, stressed Mr. Parirenyatwa.
Questions by Experts
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Zimbabwe, said that the report had been received in May 2013.  She asked about the alignment of the national legislation with the Convention.
How did the existing bodies and mechanisms in Zimbabwe relate to each other, and how were the Government actions coordinated?  How would the overall coordination of activities under the Convention be improved with the forthcoming legislation?
The Expert noted that the budget for education and maternal and child health had been decreased in recent years.  What were the prospects of having it increased again? 
A question was asked on whether more resources were foreseen for fighting corruption.
Were children’s best interests considered when sentencing parents to long sentences?
Corporal punishment in Zimbabwe was lawful in all settings, noted the Expert and asked how far the State party had gone in totally prohibiting it.
The delegation was asked about measures taken to combat violence against children, including sexual violence.  What was being done to increase awareness that sexual actions against children were unacceptable?
The Customary Marriage Act did not have a minimum age for marriage.  What would be done to raise the age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys?  How about the members of Apostolic churches who sometimes married girls as young as ten?
A number of harmful cultural practices were present in Zimbabwe, including virginity testing and witch hunting.
PETER GURÁN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Zimbabwe, raised the issue of independent human rights monitoring in Zimbabwe.  The national institution needed to operate in line with the Paris Principles.  How were persons appointed to the Human Rights Commission? How did the thematic group on children’s rights work?
Had the Committee’s General Comments been translated to the languages of Zimbabwe?
A question was asked about the training of police officers and judges on children’s rights.  How would such training continue without foreign funding?
More information was sought on the Memorandum of Understanding with the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe.  Why had that Council been selected over other religious institutions?
The Expert also wanted to know more about the collection of data in Zimbabwe.  There was a lack of disaggregated data on a number of relevant indicators. 
YASMEEN MUHAMAD SHARIFF, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Zimbabwe, noted that discrimination continued against children with disabilities, children in street situations, orphans and others.  Age-based discrimination against girls took place in the form of child marriages. 
Did the father of a child born out of wedlock have any rights of guardianship, and how was such a child registered?
Children with disabilities seemed to have a limited access to services in their homes and schools.  The delegation was asked to inform about measures taken in that regard.

Replies by the Delegation
On the legal status of the Convention and the alignment of the national legislation, it was explained that the alignment was on the top of the agenda.  The Government had until now focused on procedural alignments and would now move on to more substantive matters.  Acts pertaining to children were also in the process of being aligned, following a wide consultation process.  At the moment, the Children’s Bill was being finalized.
One central body was indeed needed to coordinate actions of the authorities on various children’s issues, which was why the National Programme of Action for Children Coordinator was in place.  The idea was also to devolve the issue to provincial and local levels.  Partnerships with non-governmental organizations were in place.  Various committees, standing and ad hoc alike, were envisioned to look into different issues.
The National Programme of Action for Children included provisions for monitoring and evaluation.  Resources for social care for children had decreased largely due to the poor economic performance and consecutive revenues; funding had thus decreased across the board.  Priority sectors were education and health care for children – these sectors were better protected from budgetary cuts than most other areas.
The delegation informed that the Bill of Rights provided that the best interest of the child was paramount and was applied in all aspects of the Family Law.  The interests of minor children were taken into consideration when it came to custody, for example.  On whether a sentence to a child’s parent could be annulled if it did not take into consideration the best interest of the child, it was reiterated that all courts were obliged to take the best interest of the child into consideration; there had been no cases where it had not been taken into account. 
On corruption, the delegation stated that fighting corruption was high on the Government’s agenda.  An anti-corruption commission was operational.
Responding to the question on corporal punishment, the delegation wondered what the alternative measures of disciplining children could be.  The Bill of Rights guaranteed the right to human dignity and freedom from torture, and was also applicable to children.  A case challenging corporal punishment in all settings was pending in front of the Constitutional Court; corporal punishment was high on the Government’s agenda.  There were provisions on how corporal punishment should be administered in schools.  Corporal punishment could only be administered as the last resort, by the head of the school and could not be administered on girls. 
When children felt that their rights had been violated, they could report them to child protection committees and the police, who included trained child-friendly officers.
Awareness raising campaigns on child sexual abuses were of paramount importance in Zimbabwe, and all the Ministries had a responsibility in that regard.  Social welfare workers also raised awareness on the importance of children to report abuse.  There was admittedly a culture of silence in parts of Zimbabwe, and transgressions of bread winners, usually fathers, were sometimes not reported.
A delegate said that 8,650 community child care workers, or over 90 per cent of the total number, had been trained.  Those workers communicated with parents on best ways to promote and protect children’s rights.
The proportion of women married before the age of 15 stood at around two per cent and was in a constant decline.  On the other hand, there had been a slight increase in marriages between the age of 15 and 18.  The issue still remained an area of concern for the Government; advocacy and awareness-raising on the negative consequences of forced and child marriages were among steps taken in that regard.  
The Government had partnered with the Apostolic Christian Council in order to jointly address the issue of child marriage.   Apostolic ambassadors for child rights had the same responsibility as community child care workers.  Faith-based organizations and the civil sector were important partners in raising awareness across the nation. 
The delegation explained that virginity tests were not carried out in formal settings in Zimbabwe.  No survey had been conducted to establish the prevalence of such testing. 
The Human Rights Commission had a mandate, among others, to promote awareness of human rights and freedoms in all levels of society.  It was made up of eight commissioners and its work was divided into thematic areas, one of which was children.  The Commission received complaints from all persons, including children, who alleged that their human rights had been violated.  The Commission was independent and adhered to the Paris Principles.  Commissioners received training, including on children’s rights.  Capacity-building was ongoing for all Commissioners as it was a fairly new institution.
The State party would inform the Committee at a later date on whether it would ratify the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Zimbabwe was yet not a party to the International Criminal Court. 
With regard to respect of the support of donors to various programmes, a delegate acknowledged that there had been a decrease in incoming funds, largely due to global economic constraints.
The Child Parliament and junior councils in all 92 local authorities had been established and comprised of young people between the age of 16 and 18.  Representatives of all schools were included.  Junior councils were platforms where children shared knowledge and experiences, and provided opportunities for children to be proactive.  They were involved in budgeting in many of the 92 local authorities.
If a girl could be married at 16 and a boy at 18, the delegation said that every person who reached 18 could found a family.  It was the Government’s proposal that a clause be added to the Customary Marriages Act so that the minimum age of marriage for all was spelled out at 18.
A child born out of wedlock was in the custody of the mother and the impregnating father had no formal family relationship with either the mother or the child.  The mother was the sole guardian of the child and she had to register the child.  The father could not be assigned a child at birth registration if the paternity had not been acknowledged.  A child born out of wedlock could still inherit from the father. 
On the access of parents to birth certificates, especially in rural areas, the delegation explained that mobile registration was in place in order to reach the unreachable communities.  If a child was born in a health institution, the child was given a birth certificate within 24 hours.  The law said that children ought to be registered within six weeks.  Sometimes parents did not ask for such a certificate until the child was ready to start school.  Hence, by age five to six, every child had a birth certificate.
Regarding stateless children found in the Zimbabwean territory, it was said that they were investigated through social  welfare institutions and probation officers.  Citizenship status was then conferred on him or her.
Children with disabilities who were abused at home were moved to places where they would be safe.  Sign language was promoted among State agencies and traditional authorities which dealt with children.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked about the existence of financial support to family members, often grandparents, who took care of orphaned children. Who was responsible for monitoring child care institutions?  A question was asked about steps taken to promote foster care in Zimbabwe.
What was the situation like regarding adoption, both nationally and internationally? Would the State party consider ratifying the convention on inter-country adoption?
The issue of privacy of children was brought up by another Expert.
Neither primary nor secondary education was free in Zimbabwe, she noted.  Perhaps that was why the net enrolment had gone down.  How could it be avoided that parents had to pay school fees?  The number of teachers had also gone down, which could lead to a lower quality of education. 
Were there many private schools in the country and how were they monitored? The delegation was asked to explain the quality of teaching in “satellite schools” in regions.
The Expert inquired what measures were taken to prevent politicization of schools.
An estimate showed that as many as 11 per cent of children had some form of disability, said another Expert.  Most such disabilities could have been prevented.
The vacancy levels for midwives and medical doctors were very high – what was the Government doing to address that?
Most neonatal deaths were preventable, said the Expert.  Not enough HIV-infected infants received antiretroviral drugs, and more could also be done to prevent mother-to-child transmissions.  Malnutrition was considered an underlying factor in many deaths and stunting rates remained high.
The delegation was asked to provide information on breast-feeding policies
What was the State doing to encourage members of the Apostolic Church to seek health services, such as immunization?
Questions were raised by an Expert on the access of youth to sexual and reproductive health services, and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.  Abortion was allowed under limited and restrictive circumstances, the procedure for which was quite lengthy.  As a result, pregnant adolescents might opt for dangerous alternatives.
The Expert inquired whether there had been an assessment of a strategy on improving the access of children to justice and legal services.  The age of criminal responsibility should be increased to 12, stated the Expert.  Were there plans in place to draft a comprehensive juvenile justice bill?
What support was available to children in the situation of migration?
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to the questions on children cared for by their relatives, the delegation explained that social welfare programmes provided public assistance to such households.  A harmonized cash transfer programme was also in place for those households which were labour constrained or food poor.  Over two per cent of receiving households were headed by children.  Family support was also provided in the sense of parenting skills, as it was understood that grandparents would need to adopt new parenting techniques.
On institutionalized children, a delegate stated that institutions were the last resort.  At the moment, there were eight Government-run institutions and more than 90 institutions run by churches or non-governmental organizations, which always had to be registered in line with the Children’s Act.  A recommendation by the Ministry of Health was a precondition for such institutions to operate; care givers, for example, had to be vetted and minimal health standards ought to be met.  Children were placed into such institutions only through court orders.  Monitoring was done through inspections. 
Zimbabwe was facing a challenge with the number and training of social workers; the current ratio stood at one social worker per 50,000 children.  With the current training, that ratio was going down to 1 social worker per 20,000 children.
The delegation explained that it was often the extended family which offered significant support to their kin.  Communities also provided support to children in need.  Formal foster care was there nonetheless, and foster homes received monthly child allowances, including health and education assistance.  The emphasis was on foster families’ parenting abilities rather than their financial capabilities.  Every month, a social worker maintained contact with both the child and the foster parents.
Adoption was another form of alternative care, but it was not so popular.  For international adoptions there was a requirement that each prospective adoptive parent had to undergo a suitability assessment.  In that regard, Zimbabwean authorities were working with international social services.  The process had commenced on the ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions.
The delegation said that children marches were allowed and the police were present just to ensure that children were not interfered with.  Schools were primarily institutions of learning and children were not allowed in political activities.  Children were not subjected to the Public Security Act.
Children’s right of expression was upheld through public communication platforms, including clubs and the public media.  Children’s participation in governance issues was being continuously improved.  Children’s right to privacy was protected by the Constitution: names, addresses or schools of children in court proceedings could not be published.
Every citizen of Zimbabwe had the right to State-funded primary education; that included adult education.  The State had to take reasonable measures to achieve progressive realization of those rights.  The request for parents to pay was an interim measure and would be phased out as resources became available. 
Parents were made aware of the need for their children to remain in school.  They did not have to pay all their fees at once and could come up with payment plans so that their children could remain in school.  No child should be denied education because of the non-payment of fees.  Zimbabwe had one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.
Private schools were run by different authorities, such as missions, trusts, companies and individual owners.  The number of such schools would be provided subsequently.  The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education was entitled to monitor all schools in Zimbabwe regardless of their ownership structures.  Satellite schools were established with the view of decreasing walking distances for children, which should not be more than five kilometres for primary school pupils.  Such schools operated under the supervision of registered “mother” schools. 
All schools currently had enough qualified teachers, stressed a delegate. The question of salaries was an issue across the public sector.  Enrolment in early childhood development classes had been steadily increasing over the years. 
State policies on the use of school facilities provided that schools were meant to facilitate the promotion of learning and any disruptive activities, such as political events, were prohibited.  There were no militias in Zimbabwe, so the issue of the abuse of schools by militias did not arise.
Persons with disabilities could not be discriminated against.  Disabled children also needed education, so the number of schools adjusted for children with disabilities now stood at over 1,700.  The principle of inclusivity was being promoted.
Free access to antiretroviral medicines was provided, but the coverage was not optimal and currently stood at 46 per cent.  Early detection of HIV was also improved, and 86 per cent of HIV-infected infants received the antiretroviral therapy today.  Close to 93 per cent of HIV positive mothers were now covered by the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme.
The under-five mortality was steadily decreasing and it now stood at 75/1,000; it was still high, but low-cost interventions continued to make a difference.  Water and sanitation awareness was being continuously emphasized.  Breast feeding was encouraged; the rates of breastfeeding in Zimbabwe stood at about 97 per cent in the first days; the rate of exclusive breast feeding went down to about 31 per cent for the first six months of life. Nutrition was a challenge, but the stunting rate was now down to 27 per cent.  Several multi-nutrient programmes were in place for expectant mothers and infants.
Partly due to the limited budget which could be supported by the economy,  some partnerships had been brought on board and further developed, such as with the Global Fund and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance.  The investments that the partners were bringing to the table were proven to be producing results, which, in turn, led to new investments.  As a result of a number of interventions, the prevalence of malaria now stood at 25 cases per 1,000.  Educating parents on the need for their children to sleep under mosquito nets was important. 
The delegation said that over the previous two years, more than 2,000 new midwives had been trained.  The Government had specifically addressed the issue of health care in rural areas, and a number of registered general nurses had been placed.  With the help of international partners, terrain-appropriate ambulance cars had been acquired.
On adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, it was explained that the strategy in that regard had been fully implemented.  Ten new youth-friendly corners had been established; they were fully equipped with all the necessary means.  The issue of teenage pregnancies remained a large problem and efforts were underway to raise awareness in that regard.  Family planning services for young people were being strengthened. 
Provisions existed in the law with regard to the termination of pregnancy; it had to be better applied in practice as the process was somewhat sluggish. 
The post of the Child Care Coordinator had been established but not yet filled, under the Directorate of Family Health, explained a delegate.  One of the main responsibilities of that position was, as the name said, the coordination of child health care.
On juvenile justice, the delegation stated that proper institutional structures and procedural mechanisms had to be in place for that purpose.  Zimbabwe was seeking to align itself with  international standards.  The Juvenile Justice Act provided that children be treated differently from adults because they had different mental and physical capacities. 
A national legal assistance for children strategy had been developed, and had improved children’s access to justice.  Since 2012, hundreds of children had availed themselves of free legal aid, and the rising trend was visible. 
The delegation reiterated that the age of criminal responsibility stood at seven and considerations were underway to raise it to 12.  There was absolutely no criminal responsibility for children under seven.  No juvenile had ever been sentenced to life imprisonment.  There were no specialized juvenile courts, but every court in Zimbabwe could be turned into a juvenile court when dealing with children-related cases.  Alternative forms of sentencing for juveniles were considered.  Resident doctors were available in penitentiaries to take care of child inmates.
An amendment to the Labour Act had raised the age of eligibility to work to 16.  The Government had ratified and domesticated the relevant international conventions in that regard.  Child-sensitive social protection strategies were put in place.  Children were protected against domestic economic exploitation, trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.  A national steering committee on the worst forms of child labour met periodically and conducted surveys.  Specific mechanisms were in place to combat push factors and root causes, particularly poverty.  Food-for-work programmes were in place, for example, for parents of children from poor families.
Regarding street children, it was estimated that their number stood at over 4,700, a minority of whom were on the streets permanently.  Most of them were male, aged 17 to 18.  An analysis had been carried out on the reasons behind those children being on the streets; some had run away from their families, others had experienced sexual or physical violence in their families, while yet others were on the streets because of truancy and delinquency.  The majority, though, were on the streets because of poverty.  Multi-sectoral task forces were looking into the issue of children on the streets.  Resources from the Government and civil society were pulled together to promote the rehabilitation of street children. 
There were children crossing into Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries, such as Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, said a delegate.  One of the ways to deal with that issue was through bilateral agreements between countries.  Children needed protection wherever they were, in line with the laws of the country in which they were caught.  Children ought not to be deported but should be repatriated through the contacts of the relevant authorities. 
The Ministry of Women and Gender was in the forefront of combatting gender-based violence, particularly rape and sexual assault.  It was a big issue in Zimbabwe, which was being talked about at the highest level, also in the context of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
There were two specialized children’s hospitals in Zimbabwe, but antiretroviral therapies to children were provided across the country.  Preventive messages were provided to children in schools; orphaned and vulnerable children were particularly targeted, not only when it came to the provision of health care, but also access to services.
Regular child protection meetings were held between relevant State agencies.  Various stakeholders, including international partners, were included in the consultation process.  Reunifying children who had run away from their families was being carried out.
Concluding Remarks
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Zimbabwe, said that the dialogue had been fruitful and the delegation had been ready to genuinely engage with the Committee.  The Committee looked forward to all the legislative amendments in the wake of the Constitution, and it was hoped that those could be sped up, especially when it came to the ages of marriage and criminal responsibility.  Funding seemed to be the main challenge.  Denying children born out of wedlock the right to have any relationship with their fathers was surprising, given that the best interests of the child ought to be respected.
P.D. PARIRENYATWA, Minister of Health and Child Care of Zimbabwe, stated that it had been a useful and stimulating exercise which had covered a wide array of issues on the promotion and protection of children’s rights.  The delegation had benefited tremendously from the probing questions by the Committee.  Profound gratitude was expressed to the members of the Committee.  Every participant in the dialogue should take something home from the interactive dialogue.  It was hoped that Zimbabwe had now been situated in an appropriate context.  Appreciation was expressed to Zimbabwe’s partners, some of whom had travelled from Zimbabwe for the interactive dialogue.

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