Back to Index
of making child protection solely women-s responsibility
February 08, 2013
of 6 February 2013 carried a story which could have arguably made
news headlines in other countries, viz, "Maize seed kills
three children" on page 3. The story itself, although it was
not given the prominence that it deserved in the media, carries
far reaching implications on the state of child protection in the
country. Both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child provide for
'holistic- protection of children by putting in place
issues that need special consideration by state parties so that
children-s rights become real rights which every child can
enjoy for the benefit of their complete and holistic development.
The guiding principles forming such provisions include child survival
and development, best interest of the child concept, non-discrimination,
child protection and child participation. The principles form the
basis of responsible citizenry and accountability by authorities.
In the case
under discussion, it is very easy to blame the 37 year old mother
of having 'killed her children.- It is also easy to
even blame the father for having aided in the 'killing of
his children.- The buck thus stops with the parents. No one
else is to blame. That is the easy way out. According to the report,
the mother 'was lucky to escape jail...(after being) sentenced
to a wholly suspended five-year jail term..." She even admitted
to have killed her children even though the court dealing with her
case noted that "she did not intentionally kill her children."
The question that begs the answer is who then can be said to have
intentionally killed the children or who also was part of the so-called
unintentional killing? In other words, if no one is to blame for
such 'a heinous crime-, then child protection in the
country is non-existent. An analysis of the circumstances surrounding
the children-s tragic death paints a grim picture of the importance
placed on children-s rights. The mother clearly had no other
means of feeding her 3 minor children. This was so because she "was
not receiving any material support from her husband...and after
she had run out of food." She then resorted to washing (most
probably to remove the pesticide) the treated maize seed and proceeded
to roast it for the children. In her mind, she probably thought
she had come up with a solution to the challenge that needed her
immediate attention; providing food for her starving babies. So
instead of putting the seed in the soil to provide food months later,
she decided that would definitely 'kill her children-
and the solution might to her have been to make her children 'live-
by eating the seed instead. No one says how she had come to be in
that dire state except that she was not receiving assistance from
the children-s father.
We are also
not told why the father could not provide the so-called material
support. He could have just been negligent, estranged from the mother
to such an extent that this adversely affected the innocent children
or he could have been unemployed. This is just conjecture. We are
also not clear whether the mother, now convict, had ever made use
of the justice delivery system to arm-twist the father in playing
his part. All we know is that he is said to have turned up at the
children-s funeral after a year from home. Some people may
choose to shift the blame away from the father. Who then is to blame?
Maybe the community where the mother was staying with the children!
Could they have provided food for the children? Or maybe they could
have assisted the mother by providing some work so that she would
earn a living and provide for the children? Could they have assisted
by giving advice on how to make sure the father paid maintenance?
This is assuming someone knew where he was staying and or even working.
It has to be borne in mind that Masvingo is considered a dry region
which is prone to droughts hence chances of many families suffering
the same predicament of starving could be high. Efforts to assist
could mean not targeting just one family but the whole community.
This can never be an effort of a lone individual.
It is sad that
when life is lost, such young life for that matter, scapegoats are
created. The mother who lost her children became one. Her vulnerability
and desperation was never objectively assessed so that solutions
could be found to the real simmering issues. A drought can never
be tackled by an individual; more so a poor woman whose husband
cannot be of any help at all, for whatever reason. At the end of
the day, she makes use of what she considers a solution to her problem.
In the process, she creates more problems for herself. Prosecuting
the poor woman, is shifting blame and placing it on an already over-laden
shoulder. The woman is obviously grieving but nothing else except,
prosecution, which can be seen as persecution, is employed as the
solution to the real issue. This may obviously further traumatise
her. Is it not time that every duty bearer goes through introspection
and 'prosecute and convict- themselves? Is there no
clear abdication of responsibility in situations such as this one?
Who should assume the mantle of ultimate protection when it comes
to children? Surely not an individual; in this instance a poor woman
staying in a drought stricken area!
The fear is
that when everyone folds their hands and blames someone else, then
the most vulnerable members of society become even further exposed
to blatant violations. A responsible citizenry will take it upon
itself to conduct some introspection. It is not about remedying
what has seriously gone wrong already, but preventing the recurrence
of such incidences. When duty bearers across the responsibility
spectrum are aware that someone will hold them accountable, then
preventive rather than reactive actions become the order of the
day. Child protection, in the absence of supporting structures,
becomes so in name only. For instance if one were to research and
follow up on this issue with the responsible authority, who would
they approach? Is it the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare? Is
it the Ministry of Social Services? The point is, there is no single
authority that is responsible for the welfare of children, so at
the end of the day no one is responsible. Whilst the children-s
human rights- movement may celebrate the inclusion of children-s
rights in the constitution, there is no doubt that the real battle
is yet to be won. This battle is about providing the requisite administrative
and implementation framework that is well-informed and has the in-put
of children themselves. Having laws on one hand is one thing and
making the laws work for those that they are intended for becomes
protection really meaningful for children means providing safety
nets for those children who fall into special categories; children
from difficult circumstances, children in child labour, children
living with disabilities, children in prison and those in conflict
with the law, neglected children and orphaned children. If this
is not done, then the press can happily report on heart-rending
cases of children dying (because the real issue of hunger has not
been solved) and place the blame squarely on the parents (in spite
of their circumstances.) Blame-shifting in such a manner can never
solve the reality of the issue; that child protection is not the
responsibility of individuals but all interested players up to the
ultimate duty bearer, the state.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.