As the Government of the Republic of Botswana, through the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) commences with the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines for adolescences aged between 12 – 17 years old, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) notes with concern, several reports from some parents / guardians to the effect that children have been returning from certain public schools vaccinated, without their prior knowledge or consent. It is further noted with concern that in some instances, the children vaccinated are not issued with the requisite vaccination cards, which provides information about the date the vaccine was administered, its type, dosage as well as the details of the health officer who administered it.

At the international level, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Botswana has duly ratified, at Article 24, state parties undertake to recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. To fully implement this right, state parties further commit to taking appropriate measures to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and healthcare to all children and to ensure that all segments of society, particularly parents and children are informed and have basic education and knowledge on child health. State parties further commit to develop preventative healthcare and guidance for parents Article 24 is interpreted within the parameters of General Comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on ‘The right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (Article 24).’ Here, the key principles and premises for the realization of a child’s right to health are highlighted as taking into account among other the best interests of the child, the right of the child to be heard as well as the evolving capacities and life-course of the child. Under these headings, noting the age and maturity of the child, upon provision of information as to particular health care treatment, their participation and the expression of views concerning their health are to be taken seriously.

This is read together with corresponding parental responsibilities to make decisions and provide informed consent with respect to the child, in their best interests, noting the views of the child as balanced with their age, maturity and evolving capacities. At the regional level, this understanding is further buttressed by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which, Botswana has similarly ratified. At national level, these international instruments culminate to Botswana’s Children’s Act of 2009 which enshrines the child’s right to health under section 15 together with principles relating to the best interests of the child as well as the rights and responsibilities of parents. In relation to parental decision-making with respect to the health of their child, the Act reiterates the duty to provide for the child’s physical needs within their best interests, bearing in mind the express wishes of the child, their age, maturity and evolving capabilities.

Noting the above, it is evident that the vaccination of children without the prior knowledge and consent of their parents/guardians runs contrary to the provisions of these instruments in that parents must be meaningfully involved in the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine provided that this is read in line with the best interests of the child and their express wishes noting their age, maturity and comprehension.

In light of this, BONELA calls on the Government of the Republic of Botswana and specifically MoHW:

To collaborate with the Ministry of Basic Education to organize awareness campaigns as well as Parent-Teacher Meetings in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine for adolescences in schools, specifically tailored to ensure understanding by children, their parents and guardians as well as their teachers around the vaccine;

To ensure that requisite consent forms for the provision of the Covid-19 vaccines are developed, and explained and reach parents/ guardians of the children within a reasonable timeframe before designated health personnel arrive at schools, to allow parents/guardians as well as their children to converse regarding the administration of the vaccine, to gain an understanding of the child express views and to provide their informed consent; and

To specifically guarantee that children who are vaccinated, are strictly issued with the requisite vaccination card with the appropriate details as to the date the vaccine was administered, its type, and dosage together with the details of the health officers who administered the vaccine.

For more information, contact BONELA on:

Katlego Sechele at ksechele@bonela.org or 72282025 Cindy Kelemi at cindyk@bonela.org or 72385054