HARARE – As political parties intensify their campaigns ahead of the 2018 general elections, they must restrain their members from force-marching schoolchildren to their gatherings.
The governing Zanu PF party is notorious for closing schools on days they have rallies in particular constituencies, with schoolchildren losing valuable learning time as they are ordered to attend the political rallies so as to boost crowd numbers.
The party is also in the habit of ordering schools to release vehicles and buses to carry supporters to their rallies. This has not gone down well with school authorities and parents who complain that when the vehicles break down, they have to foot the bills on their own.
Most of these infringements are widespread in rural areas where communities are usually cowered into submission by marauding party youths.
It is indeed inappropriate for young children to be actively engaged in political activities as they may be emotionally damaged by potentially hostile reactions from different political parties, some of which are notorious for using violence as a weapon of coercion.
Apart from force-marching schoolchildren to rallies, political parties should also desist from using schools as venues for their activities because it violates children’s rights.
Section 81 of the Constitution says children should not be forced to attend rallies or any political activities, hence our call to politicians to promote and uphold children’s rights during their campaigns as enshrined in the supreme law.
In holding political rallies at schools, the import of it is that teachers there would be an atmosphere of fear at those particular schools, which is not conducive for learning. Inadvertently, learning would be disrupted.
At most schools where political rallies are held, children continue to lose precious time even after the meetings as they spend learning time cleaning up the mess left by supporters, most of them in their hundreds.
Government must, through the ministries that deal with education, ban political parties from holding rallies and setting up campaign bases at schools.
In past elections, Zanu PF has been creating its spring bases at schools or community centres and this has disturbed the peace at these environs.
At these bases, they hold pungwes and in essence they take charge of schools and create a violent environment, where opposing voices are brutally dealt with.
Human rights groups and children’s associations need to gang up and protect our children and their future.
Teachers’ unions should also be vocal on the abuse of schools, the children and teachers. They should demand that schools remain apolitical.
As political parties campaign and prepare for the 2018 elections; it is hoped they will do it in an orderly manner that does not involve our schoolchildren, teachers and the schools.
In continuing with this practise, political parties should know that they are violating constitutional provisions, especially sections 67 on political rights, 75 which talks about the right to education, 56 which dwells on the right to equality and non-discrimination and in particular section 81 (1)(e), (f) and (h) which deals with rights of children.