It is easy to expect the government and other relevant institutions to ensure that children, especially girls, are protected by the laws of this country. It is quite another thing to be the one to be expected to ensure that these same children are protected by the laws of our country.

Through the various statutes available, the laws of Zimbabwe endeavour to protect the rights of children in this country. In particular the following Acts: the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act 2013,the Children’s Act Chapter 5:06, the Education Act Chapter 25:04, the Maintenance Act Chapter 5:09, as well as the Domestic Violence Act Chapter 5:16. Together these Acts encompass the rights that children in this country have and how they should be treated and what they should be protected against. These Acts focus attention on children having the rights to food, shelter, clothing, medical care, supervision, education and that the best interests of the children are paramount. They also highlight how children should be protected from domestic violence, exploitative labour practices, maltreatment, neglect, being pledged in marriage and any other form of abuse.

This is all well and good, however, the law can only do so much. Edmund Burke once said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing”. With all the laws protecting our children, they are still being abused at home and in schools. The eye of the law is not there all the time. It is therefore up to the citizens of Zimbabwe to do something about the violence on our children, in homes and in schools. The law cannot help if we do nothing. It is important that we all ask ourselves what we, as individuals, are doing to make sure our children are not abused both at home and in schools. One does not have to be a lawmaker, a social worker, a police officer, part of civil society or the government to ensure that the rights of children are upheld and not violated. It is our duty as citizens of this country, to see to it that our children live in safe environments, free of abuse, where their rights are being recognised.

It is easy to take to task the government or other relevant institutions, however it is also up to us, as Zimbabwean citizens, to do something. A police officer cannot arrest a person who is abusing a child when he does not know that the child is being abused. As neighbours, what are we doing when we see a child next door being abused in some way? As teachers, what are we doing when we see girls being abused in schools or showing signs of abuse from home? The time for passivity is gone. We need to be active participants in the promotion and upholding of children’s rights. It does not help for us to be appalled at how people mistreat children around us when we do nothing about it.

It is important for citizens to make sure that laws are made that protect children, let us continue to advocate for these. Above all, let us do something ourselves. Let us not watch our neighbour’s child being abused and not report it. Let us not see our brother pledge his daughter in marriage and look the other away. Let us instead, break this culture of silence. Let us be active participants rather than bystanders in this fight for our children’s rights.

Do not hide behind a finger saying. “It is not my daughter, it is not my son, it is not my grandchild.” Let us all parent the children of Zimbabwe, our children.

By Sibonginkosi Hlabangana.