Dzamaras pile pressure on Unicef

HARARE - Missing activist Itai Dzamara’s family — his wife Sheffra, brother Patson and two children — yesterday besieged Unicef’s Harare offices with a petition demanding that the organisation retracts its statement that condemned them of abusing children

This came barely 24 hours after pressure group Tajamuka protested outside the humanitarian and aid organisation’s offices over the same matter.

Last week, Unicef issued a statement raising concerns about child abuse and exploitation by the Dzamaras, and other activists, after they had involved Itai’s children in a protest demanding their father’s return — 17 months after he went missing.

During the protest which led to Unicef’s remarks, Itai’s children took the frontline, confronted armed police and offered them flowers before calling on them to remove their riot gear and join the fight against government’s misrule.

In reaction, Unicef said “it is everybody’s duty to ensure that children are not used to advance a particular political cause. Children are not political and should be sheltered at all times from situations that expose them to the risk of harm or violence.”

But in the petition, the Dzamaras said “it is bizarre that Unicef has not chosen to comment on this dynamic (the whereabouts of Itai) so far, yet chooses to comment in response to an occasion that stumped a brutal and criminal police anti-riot squad”.

“And no word of condemnation to a police force that chooses to send armed police against peaceful, law-abiding citizens, including children,” read the petition.

“Not a word about the infant that was rushed to hospital the previous Wednesday as a result of that same police unit tear-gassing a closed shop, or the infant in Bulawayo that died on July 6, as a result of police actions.”

“The language of the (Unicef) statement calls the presence of citizens in the park a ‘political cause’, when it is Zimbabweans lawfully exercising their right to peacefully assemble,” the petition further stated.

“It is reminiscent of government propaganda… It makes it seem like Unicef in Zimbabwe is siding with the ruling party against citizens, and against the ‘peace and social progress’ these citizens are striving for.”

Speaking after handing the petition to Unicef chief communications manager Victor Chinyama, Patson said the aid agency said they would respond in a week.

“They said ‘thank you, we will look into it.’ We are hoping to have a positive response,” he said.

“The overall sentiment they gave was that there was no political agenda attached to the statement but we told them we found the statement in bad taste considering we have witnessed many violations of children’s rights by the ruling party but Unicef has never said a word,” Patson said, before he remarked that he would return to ask for assistance for his brother’s children to see if the organisation genuinely stood for children.

“I hope from here on they will be issuing a statement whenever they will be child rights violation no matter the perpetrators,” Dzamara said.

Apart from Unicef’s concerns, the children’s involvement also did not go down well with the Social Welfare ministry which felt the children were being exploited and used to “advance a particular political cause.”

Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira was quoted as saying in the State media that “…the use of children in the protest violates Article 367 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which provides for the protection of children from any form of exploitation, which includes being taken advantage of; in this case it is clear that the organisers of this protest took advantage of these children to get a sympathetic ear”.

She added: “the Zimbabwe Constitution provides that ‘Every child has a right not to be compelled to take part in any political activity’. It is doubtful if these children on their own volition volunteered to be part and parcel of this protest”.

Comments (1)

For UNICEF to retract their statememnt would amount to their condoning of violation of child rights. The reasons given by the Dzamaras don't justify the means. For Tajamuka to protest in solidarity with Dzamaras over the violation leaves a lot to be desired. Take your fights to your enemy and leave children out of it. #RegistertoVote

Dunderhead - 22 August 2016

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