Child rights in the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church
AT the core of this segment of the study are the psychosocial rights of children in Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) as is reflected in its teachings, beliefs, practices and rituals.
When advocating for the wellbeing of a child in JMAC’s theology, one would be looking at well-being from a multi-dimensional construct, psychological, material, deprivation, encompassing mental, physical, social dimensions, as well as subjective feelings about one’s quality of life.
According to African Child Policy Forum, (2008) a child’s well-being is about being healthy, free from abuse and exploitation, secure, access to basic needs, growing up in an environment where every child is respected and generally happy.
OECD (2009) says the full and harmonious development of each child is the ultimate goal. The greatest discord is in how the well-being is measured. Two divides that are often referred to are that of the developmental, child rights perspective and the negative/positive measures approach.
Whilst a number of studies were carried out by religious scholars, not much has been written on development-related rights deprivation. There are a number of programmes by the government and the non-governmental organisation/civil society organisation sector which are meant to benefit the children.
However, the JMAC theology makes it difficult for children within her wings to access them. This is deprivation of children’s rights through negation. Thus, JMAC theology is depriving children from enjoying their full constitutional rights and access to government’s developmental programmes.
The well-being of the children in African independent churches (AICs) is central in this study. However, regardless of what approach one chooses to take, the guarantee for the well-being of the child should be considered as a top priority.
Factors such as religious doctrines and teachings that undermine the well- being of the child should be scrutinised and remedial action taken.
Meanwhile, factors that undermine the well-being of the child such as depriving them from accessing psychosocial support and government programmes should be viewed as a key human rights issue. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, offers the highest international norms and standards for the well-being of the child. It is the only human rights treaty that has almost universal ratification by UN member states.
The CRC was the first comprehensive treaty containing 42 detailed provisions enshrining the rights of all persons under the age of eighteen, in all areas of their lives, including economic, social, religious and cultural rights and civil and political rights (Lee: 2009).
Due to the nature of childhood, the CRC also includes special protection measures, that protect children from abuse and exploitation.
The United Nations General Assembly in 1989 established the committee on the Rights of the Child as fundamental for the realisation of children’s well-being and rights.
Under this provision, Article 2 deals with non-discrimination and state obligation to ensure that every no child within its jurisdiction is impeded from enjoying such a right (General Comment No.2: 2009).
Article 3 also deals with the interests of the child doctrine where decisions that affect children should be given high priority by the state (ibid). Meanwhile, Article 6 deals with the right to life, survival and development (Article 6) including mental, emotional cognitive, social and cultural development and adding a qualitative dimension.
Article 12 is also found to be key as it deals with respect for the views of the child and that children have the right to be heard and to have their views taken seriously in all settings, including judicial or administrative proceedings that affect them. Due weight must be given to the views of children in accordance to age and maturity.
Children generally constitute a vulnerable category of people because of their ages and limited experiences of life (Sillar, 2015, Hopper, 2007 and Goldfried, 1982).
They encounter difficult situations as a result of disasters, divorce, discrimination, political violence and war, among other things. Zimbabwe does have a history of state sponsored political violence resulting in unrecorded rape cases and other related human rights violations (Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition: 2018).
Without counselling, victims may not open up resulting in the perpetuation of these abuses and related unintended factors like the post traumatic disorders. More importantly, if the revelation by the minister of Health and Child Care that out of the 15.2 million people in Zimbabwe a million have been confirmed to have mental challenges, the statistical evidence he raised points to the urgency of the need for professional counselling services which should include the rarely studied religious sphere.
JMAC is a good example of a closed society where children are being subjected to traumatic doctrines and teachings. The counselling gap tends to be acute in closed societies like JMAC, which does not even respect the Constitution.
Without provision of proper counselling services from qualified clinical psychologists, the adverse experiences of economic, social, political and religious traumatic experiences, may stress them out leading to being maladjusted. Traumatised children essentially need counselling in order to cope with hard times (Dhlamini and Lindhard 1977).
Counselling has been argued to have the potential to help children realise their full potential for growth and sound decision making (Hopper, 2007). Davis (1993) argues that counselling especially for children is designed to help people to understand and clarify their views and learn how to reach their self-determined goals through meaningful, well informed choices and through the resolution of emotional or interpersonal problems.
The same concept is viewed by Tailor (1967) as being concerned with helping an individual to utilise his/her own coping resources to arrive at a decision. Mwoma and Pillay (2015) assert that counselling helps the child gain an insight into the origins and development of emotional difficulties leading to increased capacity to take rational control over feelings and actions.
Additionally, counselling plays a critical role to alter children’s mal-adjusted behaviour, assist them in the direction of fulfilling their potential and / or achieving an integration of conflicting elements within themselves. Similarly, counselling is found to be germane to children’s lives as it provides them with the skills, awareness and knowledge which enable them to confront social inadequacies and experienced injustices.
The National Baseline Survey on the Life Experiences of Adolescents conducted in May 2012 in Zimbabwe, which had a nationally representative sample of females and males aged between 13 and 24, revealed that almost one third of females (32.5%) and one in 10 males (8.9%) aged 18 to 24 years reported experiencing sexual violence in childhood.
Furthermore, of respondents aged 13 to 24, approximately 9% of girls and 2% of boys reported experiencing sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. Moreover, nearly one in ten females (9%) and less than 1% of males aged 18 to 24 years reported experiencing physically forced sex (rape) prior to age 18. These traumatic experiences require counselling services.
Unfortunately, in JMAC, sexual abuse and child marriages are considered as normal without any psychological impact. JMAC has a culture of forcing women into polygamous marriages without even considering its psychological, emotional, economic and health effects.
Minors are married off to old aged men without considering the importance of their conjugal rights as a sexually active group. These factors demonstrate the importance of clinical psychological services in JMAC.
The violation of children’s rights is an African phenomenon embedded in its culture and African religious beliefs, teachings and rituals. According to Unicef (2011), data from similar studies in other African countries demonstrate that sexual violence against children is a serious issue throughout the region.
In Eswatini, one in three females experience sexual violence prior to 18 years of age, while in Tanzania, three in ten children (27.9%) of females and (13.4%) of males reported experiencing sexual violence prior to 18 years of age. The need for children increases if children are not helped when they are young. Their emotional health will be compromised and they will not have the opportunity to develop healthy relationships.
Any child who has experienced a traumatic event in life needs help. If that help can be given in the home, by loving parents, supported by friends, or contained by a community that cares then that is the best answer to his/her needs.
When such resources are not available, then the child needs to have somebody who can listen, somebody who can contain the unspeakable pain, somebody who can sustain a relationship with the child, no matter how difficult (Hopper: 2007).
About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.