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Schoolchildren attend class at a school in Norton, west of the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, September 10, 2019. © 2020 AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Zimbabwe’s amended Education Act is a significant step forward for children across the country. Among other things, the amendment prohibits corporal punishment and the exclusion of pregnant girls from school in accordance with the Zimbabwe Constitution, which guarantees the right to education.

In May 2019, Human Rights Watch wrote an open letter to Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education, to ensure that it guaranteed equal realization of the right to education for all in Zimbabwe and complied with international human rights standards.

The new law provides that children are not subject to any form of physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at school, and prohibits teachers from beating students. An overwhelming number of students are affected by corporal punishment in Zimbabwe’s schools.

The amended law further provides that every school provide suitable infrastructure for students with disabilities and requires government authorities to ensure disability rights are protected and accounted for in every school in the country. The law reasserts the constitutional protection that students should not pay fees, or levies, from preschool up to Form 4, the end of lower secondary education, and says no pupil shall be excluded from school for non-payment of school fees.

Prior to this new amendment, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Education, Sport, Art and Culture introduced a conditional reentry policy in 2010, which ended expulsion of pregnant girls from school but only allowed them to return after a three-month leave. More than 6,000 pregnant girls dropped out of school in Zimbabwe in 2018 alone, according to a UNESCO report. 

Zimbabwe authorities now need to act on these laudable legislative changes, ensuring necessary infrastructural changes are made to accommodate children with disabilities and others. The government should also put in place a monitoring system to ensure schools accommodate pregnant students and adolescent mothers, and that they don’t turn away students who cannot pay indirect school costs. The full implementation of the new law will go a long way to ensuring more young people realize their right to education and complete compulsory basic and secondary education in Zimbabwe.

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