Primary education will now be State-funded and compulsory, and parents and guardians will be imprisoned if they fail to send their children to school, should amendments to the Education Bill sail through Parliament.
On Thursday, the National Assembly accepted amendments from Proportional Representation legislator, Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC-T), which seek to criminalise the failure by parents or guardians to allow children to attain State-assisted basic education.
This came out during the Committee stage of the Education Bill, which was being steered by Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima.
The National Assembly accepted amendments from Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga to delete Clause Four of the Bill and replace it with another one that provides for compulsory education.
The new clause now reads as follows: Section 5 (“Compulsory education”), of the principal Act is repealed and substituted with the following: –5 Compulsory Education (1) Every child shall be entitled to compulsory basic State-funded education. (2) Any parent who deprives their child the right to basic State-funded education shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 6 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.”
Before the clause was acceded to, Prof Mavima said he was in agreement with the relevant amendments.
“We did concede to the proposed amendment and we also think the duty to ensure the right to education should fall on the guardians as well. So, compulsory will also mean that the parents or guardians would have an obligation to make sure that learners go to school,” said Prof Mavima.
However, there was heated debate after Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga sought to have legislators accept a clause imposing an obligation on schools to provide the girl child with sanitary wear.
While Prof Mavima agreed with the proposition, he differed on how the proposed clause was structured as it had the effect of compelling schools to provide girls with the sanitary wear.
Several legislators took turns to support Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga saying there was need to assist female pupils with sanitary wear considering the price, which they said was beyond the reach of many.
Prof Mavima said it was more prudent to structure the clause as follows, “Every school shall endeavour to provide sanitary wear and other menstrual health facilities to girls.”
He said there were possible legal landmines should the Government and schools fail to provide such items owing to resource constraints.
Prof Mavima had also indicated that such things were administrative in nature and could not be captured in a law as what was being suggested by legislators.
“We should also consider the fact that if we put an outright obligation right now on a school in Gokwe, Binga or Checheche there, to say as soon as this Bill passes, they have to or are obligated to provide sanitary wear, we could render some of the schools dysfunctional because of the resource factor that we find in our schools.
“So, in my view it is good for us to put it in the way that we have suggested. I think you would also want to know that we have programmes on the ground on reusable sanitary pads.
“We pushed for the removal of duty on sanitary wear, but for me to commit and say that I can avail sanitary wear tomorrow for all girl children — I would be lying.”
Binga North MP Prince Sibanda (MDC-Alliance) said Government could not abrogate its responsibility of ensuring that it takes care of sexual and reproductive health for its female citizens.
After protracted debate, the National Assembly eventually allowed the clause to pass in the form it had been proposed by Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga.