Tuesday, October 19, 2021

‘Let-them-die’ policy also targets innocent children

Like everybody else, Childline Botswana is on tenterhooks about what shape and form the final version of a Ministry of Health and Wellness policy that excludes certain groups for medical cover will take.

In terms of this policy, which was packaged as a savingram by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Shenaz El-Halabi, “self-inflicted injuries” are removed from the government’s medical cover. Such injuries relate to drunk-driving, riding motorbikes without helmet, failure to use seat belts for self or children as passengers, participation in riots and mass gatherings involving violence leading to injury, lung cancer associated with tobacco and tobacco products, and attempted suicide related to alcohol or drug abuse. Outside officialdom, the policy has been shorthanded to “Let them die.” The inclusion of children on this list means that if a parent-motorist neglects to strap in a four-year child and the latter sustains injuries in a road accident, the government would not provide medical cover for that child.

Mere announcement of the policy provoked a furore and it was suspended without ever having been implemented anywhere in the country. Addressing health professionals in Selebi Phikwe not too long ago, the Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness, Phillip Makgalemele, said that the government had decided to suspend the policy in order to consult with members of the public. Apparently, that never occurred to the government in the first instance.

The Coordinator of Childline Botswana, Olebile Machete, says that his organisation has a problem with the version that has been unveiled precisely because it punishes innocent children. It is unclear when the consultation that Makgalemele spoke of will begin but when it does, Machete says that Childline will study the policy, take a position and make necessary input.

Then again there is the possibility that such consultation may never take place because the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is suing the government over this policy. Party leader Dumelang Saleshando says that the policy is unconstitutional because it doesn’t respect basic human rights.

He adds that the consultation itself is problematic because it could yield a response that offends the international human rights covenant.

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