Protecting Every Child in Zimbabwe
Justice for Children Trust has a keen understanding of what levers create change for vast numbers of children in Zimbabwe. A group of young law students saw that many children who had been abused had no one to help them through the legal system. The group decided they could change that by showing up at the courthouse and offering their help to children who have no one else to assist them in the courtroom. They did this informally at first, and then in 2002, they formally created Justice for Children Trust, or JCT.
Eleven years later, JCT is a strong institution with ten staff and programs around the country. The core of their work is still helping individual children with legal assistance, but they have also expanded their programs to help children that aren’t yet involved in a court case. For example, educating children on their rights and helping them access government services by obtaining birth certificates. These tactics help JCT to stop abuse before it occurs by empowering children with their legal rights and the tools to act on those rights.
In 2009, Zimbabwe began a constitutional revision process. Up until this point, laws protecting children were scattered throughout the law books and did not comprehensively protect children’s rights. JCT realized this was an opportune moment to enshrine children’s rights within the new constitution.
Rather than using a confrontational approach, JCT believes putting children first helps stakeholders with divergent views find common ground. In 2010, they partnered with members of Parliament to conduct consultative meetings throughout the country to learn what people wanted to see in the new constitution. Given the political environment, many of these meetings had a difficult dynamic. However, JCT was able to find common ground, across political orientations, on protecting children.
At this juncture, Firelight gave an additional grant to JCT that enabled them to train Firelight’s 22 Zimbabwean partners on how to advocate for child rights, equipping them to engage in the constitution-writing process.
At the culmination of the constitution making process, JCT organized a children’s national summit where a wide range of government officials listened to children speak about what they wanted to see in the new constitution.
In March 2013, Zimbabweans approved the new constitution. In JCT’s words: “This adoption is a milestone in the lives of children as the previous constitution did not spell out the rights and responsibilities of children. The new constitution seeks to bring clarity on previously obscure issues such as birth registration, education and abuse.”
Though JCT made a huge push in the past few years to ensure children’s rights were included in the constitution, they realize their work is not over. JCT has learned that “when laws and policies change, information does not trickle down as soon as possible.” Their work continues, training police and judicial officers, small organizations, children, and community volunteers on specific child rights issues contained in the new constitution and related Sexual Abuse Protocol. They hope this will increase understanding of legal developments that will improve children’s access to justice.
Over its years of existence, JCT has reached thousands of children directly. But through their work on the constitution, all five million of Zimbabwe’s children will benefit.
Justice for Children Trust is part of our Fund: Child Safety. They are a leading example of how one group taking action with a long-term approach can lead to lasting change for children nation-wide.
Until January 31st, you can support Justice for Children Trust by donating to Fund: Child Safety. Your donation goes directly to the four communities involved in the Fund and JCT is one of them.