There is a need for the development of a protocol that specifically addresses the plight of children from a very early age in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region as children are the foundation and future of any society.
This came out of a one-day workshop held in Harare, Zimbabwe, and organised by the national Technical Working Group of the Zimbabwe Network for Early Childhood Development Actors (ZINECDA) to interrogate issues affecting the development of children from a very young age.
ZINECDA is a Zimbabwean umbrella body of early childhood development organisations and individuals working in partnership with other stakeholders to influence policies, programmes and practice related to early childhood development (ECD) through policy advocacy, generation of new knowledge, building capacity of members, policy makers and sharing experiences.
ZINECDA, in partnership with National ECD Coalition of Lesotho (NECDOL), and the ECD Coalition of Malawi, are implementing a transnational advocacy capacity building project which seeks to develop stronger and vibrant Early Child Development and Education (ECDE) in Southern Africa. To achieve this objective, the consortium formed the national technical groups that would take advocacy issues from the national level to regional governing bodies.
The national technical groups will assist in formulating a national and regional agenda that will promote the implementation of education policies at the same time influencing the development of comprehensive and inclusive ECDE policies and legislation.
Speaking at the workshop, ZINECDA national coordinator, Mr Naison Bhunhu, said ECD was a critical sector in the development of children and societies, yet governments were not allocating the sector enough resources.
Mr Bhunhu said despite the importance ECD, there was no protocol that addresses issues of early childhood development at the SADC level. He therefore called on governments in the Region to interrogate this issue with a view to putting it on the agenda of SADC. He emphasised the importance of multi-sectoral common knowledge; national ECDE agenda setting and driving; identification of attention areas for research; SADC and regional agenda setting for ECDE; sharing of ideas with national bodies and experts in order to advance the issues of ECD.
The Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, Honourable Tonderayi Moyo, echoed the same sentiments and said ECD is a very fundamental aspect towards addressing the rights of children. He called for the allocation of more resources towards ECD.
Mr …Kgomotso of Child Rights Network for Southern Africa (CRNSA) noted that at SADC level, there are 27 protocols that are in force, but none of these deals with the issue of children in a holistic manner. Yet SADC has a young population, with 76% below the age of 35 years and children below the age of 18 years comprise nearly half of the Region’s population. All countries in the SADC Region, except the Democratic Republic of Congo, have ratified both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC);
The proposed Protocol on ECD seeks to strengthen the implementation of existing child rights instruments; reinforce child rights monitoring, evaluation, reporting, accountability and public investments in children; and highlight matters of emphasis relevant and unique to the SADC Region. The matters of emphasis include ECD; child rights and business; climate change; mental health; child poverty; and child rights governance and accountability.
The goal and objective of the protocol will be to recall regional and international standards on the rights and welfare of the child which SADC Member States have ratified in order to harmonise and accelerate the implementation of those standards; provide guidance on child rights-based policy formulation and implementation by Member States; and deepen sub-regional cooperation and strengthen Member States collaboration with development partners, Civil Society Organisations, businesses, the media and faith based organisations.
As a way forward and to address the issue of ECD, participants at the workshop agreed to create a database for school going children; enhance coordination among stakeholders; engage with the local and regional media; hold special meetings with influential people such as politicians and traditional leaders; have a knowledge management repository; and coordinate strategies to address child rights in relation to gender.
The participants also agreed to lobby SADC over the drafting of a protocol on ECD issues; a SADC coordination mechanism for children; and a regional ECD information management system. They also agreed to synergise rights and responsibilities, and to address issues of climate change in regard to children with disabilities.
The participants agreed to engage the SADC Secretariat on ECD issues and to originate the draft protocol on children’s issues, in coordination with respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs in the Region.