“Amai wevana ava varikupi? ” (Where are the mothers of these children)
“Amai wevana ava varikupi? ”-Gamuchirai Mbetu, a young person with legal background asks us!!
In the past two weeks the newspapers have been filled with the headlines that reflect a generation that we are failing to understand. Are we the adults falling behind with the times or are we neglecting our children, to allow them to be attacked by the sexual nuances of modern entertainment and at the mercy of child abusers? These headlines include: two boys who were charged with sodomy, 28 children arrested for attending a nude party in Westgate, Harare and the reduction of the age of sexual consent to 12 years old. The Shona adage, “Amai vevana ava varikupi” comes to mind. This is a statement used when a child behaves immorally, the immediate reaction is to look for their mother. Gender disputes aside, it appears in Zimbabwe our children are being forced to look after themselves. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children is one of the only international documents that gives a positive right to children take up some responsibilities as citizens of a state. Have these children in the headlines deviated from their personal responsibility or are we the children’s guardians deviating from this responsibility?
Children are a vulnerable group in our society, and this is perpetuated by poverty. The cycle of poverty or a flailing economy usually results in the lack of supervision of children as is apparent in the Zimbabwean scenario. However, it appears that society has strayed too far from the responsibility over children especially in the context of the law. Regardless of the fight against early marriages and the manner in which the age of childhood is marked as at 18, a child above the age of 12 is still perceived as one who can presumed to be able to consent to sex. Yes, the same child who is argued not to be mature enough to drive, write O’level exams, vote or enter to a legal contract, among other issues. Anyway, I digress, the law has in a recent judgment from the courts confirmed that a young girl aged 12 can agree to have sex with any man regardless of the said man’s age. Yes, this is when one argues that it all depends on the circumstances, context and so forth. The truth is however, with high maternal mortality rates in Zimbabwe, an unchanging HIV infection rate amongst adolescents and porous records of child abuse reporting, we cannot afford to leave our young women so unprotected. In this respect legislation needs to catch up with the constitution in recognizing that a child is a child first. A minor largely subjected to their circumstance and has been dragged along under the guardianship of our society. If they are unfortunately raised in less than ideal conditions, they are then laid out to be mocked, taunted and marked as an anomaly: even though these children were raised by us. If our children are mocked so are we.
Alright, I understand that there are parents out there who are doing their very best to love and appreciate their children. However, as Zimbabwe has developed, our proverbial village culture of raising a child has fallen by the wayside. Many parents may argue that they cannot control what their children do but it also seems that our teenagers are neglected. We have witnessed the drive to involve children but their presence at high level policy meetings, donor meetings is largely ceremonial. We spend more time talking about the needs of the children than we do speaking to them and encouraging them to act positively. Arguably, these may just be complaints but when was the last time you had a conversation with a young person: Enquired about their hopes, their dreams and their values. My premise is that these children out of shear boredom are failing to channel their energies positively. In the same vein the adults with the wisdom to marry, enter into a contract, and drive were the first ones to take the pictures of those young people and forward them on various social media platforms. The nude party incident is one of many where one was subjected to humiliation on social media. The drunk girl that was molested by a number of boys, the picture of a girl whose dress flew up whilst posing for a photo are a few examples. What happened to these children when they were received at the police station? Are they going through counseling? Why did they have that much time to engage in such activities? This is not the first time and there are many other parties with underage drinking that take place. Wait, one more question, is anyone showing these children the consequences of their behavior?
We do have to ask, “vana vaani ava?” Our children seem to attract our attention when they do negative things. We must applaud shows such as Positive Talk on television and the Y-Zone on radio. These shows empower our children to see that their opinions matter and that we want to entrust our future with them: rather the future of this country with them. Perhaps the adults need to stop asking each other and start engaging the children themselves. It is time for the proverbial village to claim back its children.