As part of the process of developing a comprehensive national strategy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Zimbabwe, UNICEF Zimbabwe, in collaboration with the government, donors, and civil society, undertook studies in 2000 aimed at compiling a comprehensive information base on the various categories of vulnerable children. The studies commissioned towards the preparation of this report were as follows:
- A Study on Children Affected by AIDS in Zimbabwe
- A Study on Children Infected with HIV in Zimbabwe
- A Study on Children and Adolescents with Disabilities in Zimbabwe
- A Study on Street Children in Zimbabwe
- A Literature Review on the Phenomenon of Working Children in Zimbabwe
Each commissioned study has also been listed separately in the database, including a comprehensive Summary Report that synthesizes the five case studies.
Purpose / Objective
This study was commissioned by UNICEF to analyse the situation of children with disabilities in Zimbabwe.
The study was carried out throughout Zimbabwe covering urban areas (Harare, Kadoma, Gweru, Masvingo, Bulawayo, Mutare), rural areas (Rusape, Gokwe, Nkwali, Nkayi, Murehwa, Musami, Mudzi), mines (Mhangura and Alaska), commercial farms (Mhangura and Chinhoyi areas) and peri-urban areas (Ruwa and Domboshava). A literature review was undertaken and issues arising from the review were validated during field research.
Three structured questionnaires were used to collect data: one was for the care-givers, one for the children and adolescents with disabilities and the other one was for officials of institutions and integration units. One hundred and seventy caregivers participated in the study. Of these, 32 (19%) were male and 138 (81%) were female. Forty-six (27%) were from urban areas, 58 (34%) were from rural communal areas, 36 (21%) were from mines, 20 (12%) were from peri-urban areas and 10 (6%) were from commercial farms. A total of 293 children and adolescents with disabilities answered the structured questionnaire. Of these, 164 (56%) were male and 129 (44%) were female. One hundred and thirteen (39%) had hearing disabilities, 98 (33%) were visually handicapped, and 81 (28%) had physical disabilities, while only one had multiple disabilities. Twenty children with mental disabilities were observed in classroom situations and four were observed in their homes. Twenty-eight officials of institutions that service or look after children and adolescents with disabilities participated in the study.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Observations made in houses and classrooms of children with mental disabilities and those with multiple disabilities found that the caregivers spent more time caring for these children than they did with other children in the family. Some of the children with disabilities did not have basic survival skills like feeding themselves, moving to the bathroom, toilet, etc. This required that the caregivers care for the children twenty four hours a day. The situation was complicated further for 28% of the caregivers as they had more than one child with disabilities.
One hundred and forty (84%) caregivers did not receive assistance from their families when they realised that their child was disabled. Twenty-eight (16%) received support from members of their families when they realised their child had a disability. Of those who received support, it came mainly from grandparents, particularly maternal grandmothers. This was collaborated by evidence from the questionnaire on children. When asked whether their grandparents liked them, 55% of the children felt that their paternal grandparents liked them, compared to 73% who thought their maternal grandparents liked them. Maternal grandmothers gave support to the family of a disabled child primarily to support their daughter who carried the blame of giving birth to such a child. Also, maternal grandmothers sympathised with their inexperienced daughters because of the overall responsibilities associated in caring for children with disabilities.
On the other hand, most of the caregivers (84%) did not receive any support from both their nuclear family and the extended family. When asked to explain why this was the case, the following were given as explanations. Some relatives saw the birth of a child with a disability as a taboo that brought bad omen to the family. As a result, they did not want be to associated with the situation. When probed to explain further during group discussions, the caregivers noted that family members came to their support if there were family rituals being performed that would cleanse the child with the disability, thus removing the bad omen. This suggested family members were supportive of not the child with the disability, but rather the desire to eliminate the disability itself.
Most of the relatives of the husband's side blamed the disability on the wives. Caregivers in the focused group discussions related stories of sour relationships between mother-in-law and their daughter-in-law with disabled children. Some caregivers, particularly those in the urban areas, said family support was not forthcoming because people were too busy with their lives. They had no time to take care of someone else's problems, particularly in these harsh economic times. This question was probed further during interviews. When asked if they thought it was important to revive the traditional family support structures or not, most caregivers wanted the support structure revived. They realised that family support structures were important not only on issues of disabilities, but in many other circumstances.
One hundred and fifty four (91%) caregivers did not receive any support from their communities on how to care for their child with disabilities. One percent got support from support groups of parents of children with disabilities, 6% were assisted by churches and 2% received support from non-governmental organisations. Caregivers in the focused group discussions in all the three groups required support from their communities. Unfortunately, this support was not forthcoming. No one was informing the community on the need for such support structures to be put in place. Traditional structures in the villages had nothing to do with people having disabilities. When asked if chiefs, kraal heads and the Zunde concepts were helping them in caring for their children with disabilities, the caregivers in the focused group discussions responded negatively. However, they saw the potential of using existing traditional, administrative and local service structures to lobby for support. They noted that there was need for sensitising and making the community aware of their responsibility towards the disabled.
Fifty-four percent of the caregivers (92) who participated in the study had their children with disabilities in school while 46% (78) did not. The caregivers of children with severe to profound multiple disabilities were the bulk of the 46% that did not have their children with disabilities in school. These were the children who were not mobile. Some children were unable to sit on their own, others were bed-ridden, and some required a constant change of clothes because they soiled themselves. The care of these children was very demanding and caregivers were unable to source school placements or receive any assistance for these children. There was only one institution in the country that taught such children and it was completely full.
The other group of students with disabilities included a large number of out-of-school children who suffer from severe mental disabilities. Most caregivers of such children in the study wanted their children in such circumstances to go to school. Some of them had been assisted by Schools Psychological Services to get places for their children at schools/units of children with mental disabilities. Unfortunately, all such schools in Zimbabwe fall under one organisation and, according to the parents in the focused group discussions, the fees were too expensive. Although their children were offered places, they did not take them up. In addition, schools for such children were all in urban areas, leaving children in the rural areas, mines and farms without such facilities.
Given a choice, 47% of the caregivers said they preferred that their disabled children go to their local school in the neighbourhood, together with their siblings. Eighteen percent preferred them to go to a regular boarding school where they integrated with non-disabled children, while 34% preferred that their children with disabilities attend a special boarding school for the disabled only. Only one percent preferred to relinquish their children with disabilities to be institutionalised and allow the institution to assume total responsibility for the child.
Caregivers, especially the mothers, had to carry the child on their backs. As the children grew older and bigger, it became very difficult for the mothers to carry the children around. Most of these children did not have wheelchairs in their homes and their caregivers did not have the money to buy the wheelchairs. Parents of children with severe to profound multiple disabilities felt their children's condition required that they be hospitalised. To them, using the local school was out of the question. They preferred schools with hospitals, such as the one in Bulawayo, which, unfortunately, is the only one in the country and is always full.
Many parents of children with disabilities do not know the laws, policies and regulations that assist their children. There is a need for such laws, policies and regulations to be printed in Shona and Ndebele. Parents need to be educated on such policies.
Children with disabilities are dropping out of school because of lack of school fees. A short-term solution would be to set up a bursary fund in the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture to support these children. This should not be left only to the Department of Social Welfare because it is not a welfare issue but a right to education issue.
There is need to mobilise parents of disabled children so that they form support groups to help each other. In some disability areas, such groups exist and they need consolidation. Parents supporting each other in their communities would be ideal. It was noted that each district hospital has a rehabilitation technician; thus, it is further suggested that rehabilitation technicians be given the responsibility to start parent support groups in their districts. This is occurring in Gokwe, where the rehabilitation technician at Gokwe Hospital was mobilising parents into support groups. This is a good model that could be replicated at each district hospital.
There is need for social mobilisation targeted at fathers. In the study, fathers were featured badly as being negative to disability. Yet, fathers only came into the scene of the child with disabilities after the effect.
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