2001 ZIM: Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children and Adolescents in Zimbabwe
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
Purpose / Objective
The purpose of this Summary Report is to present a synthesis of five commissioned and one supported study on various categories of vulnerable children. The report goes further to synthesize reflections on the prevention and mitigation measures as well as identify some gaps that, if addressed, would make a positive impact on the situation of these children.
[Each commissioned study has also been listed separately in the database. This Executive Summary is for the Summary Report that synthesizes the five studies.]
A comprehensive literature review was undertaken for each category above and major issues emanating from the literature review were highlighted. Field research was then undertaken. An effort was made to ensure sample sizes were designed in a manner that was nationally representative. Fieldwork specifically focused on obtaining information on causes, effectiveness, adequacy and relevance of interventions, existing opportunities and risks, and views on the way forward (including perceived roles of various actors).
Key Findings and Conclusions
Children Affected by HIV and AIDS
Children affected by AIDS were identified as highly mobile as they moved from one household to another. 48% of families had moved from their original home after the death of their parents, and 167 children had left home, the majority going to the rural areas to ease economic hardship in the urban areas. Some children moved to urban areas and commercial farms in search of employment, while others were reported to have run away and no one knew where they were.
Relatives were identified as most helpful during funerals, but were not readily available during illness and after the funeral, leaving children to bear the bulk of caring for sick parents and looking after siblings following the death of parents.
Specific monitoring indicators have not been developed at policy and programmatic levels. Current approaches to pilot projects lack clearly-defined project monitoring mechanisms that provide information on the sustainability and ability to replicate project activities at policy and programme levels.
Additionally, there is a lack of awareness programmes on child protection and child rights. There is insufficient involvement of children in the issues that affect them. There is unclear programming for children who are currently assuming adult responsibilities.
Children Infected with HIV
In the hospitals visited, HIV infection was the single leading cause of admission and death in the pediatric wards. The children suffer from repeated episodes of chronic disabling conditions such as tuberculosis and chronic diarrhea; life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and meningitis; disfiguring conditions such as herpes zoster and other skin diseases; recurrent parotid gland enlargements, conspicuous dental caries and chronic discharge from the ears. They are often miserable and have no energy to enjoy their childhood to the full. These children are also chronically undernourished.
There is no set approach in diagnosing HIV-infection in children, the management of the sick child and the management of the parents or care-giver. Treatment is basically palliative and supportive. Care-givers complain that inadequate food is one of their main problems. Others have restricted food intake or diminished absorption due to conditions such as mouth and throat sores and recurrent diarrhea.
The care-givers portrayed a picture of frequent episodes of illness in the child, disruption of personal lives, loss of friends, declining resources, inability to provide for the child, lack of external support, permanent fear for the child's imminent death and overall desperation. Resources for the child's sustenance are often scarce. Most care-givers who are not parents (40%) are often old relatives who are 60 years and over, and have no reliable income from which to provide for the child.
Communities are socially helpful. When properly mobilized, the community had the capacity to support the extended family to care for children affected by AIDS. These communities, however, had limited resources. Most institutions were identified as useful, but some were not accessible especially to those in resettlement and rural areas. Education institutions came across children affected by AIDS more frequently than any other institution. It was not clear whether personnel in such institutions were well-equipped for the extra task of meeting the needs of these children, especially in areas of counseling and psychological support.
Children with Disabilities
In both the review of literature and the field validation, attitudes, beliefs and stigmas that are negative to disability featured prominently. Both Shona and Ndebele cultures evidence negative beliefs on the causes of disabilities, associating with such aspects as witchcraft, promiscuity by the mother and reacted with horror, fear, anxiety, distaste, hostility and patronizing behavior towards children and adolescents with disabilities. The results included increased isolation, discrimination and prejudice towards them.
The study confirmed that there is limited social acceptance of children with disabilities by their families (particularly their fathers and paternal relatives), and the communities they lived in. Interventions for people with disabilities are mostly viewed as charitable, largely undertaken by NGOs. The field validation noted that 87% of the care-givers of children with disabilities in the study were unemployed and had no other sources of steady income.
The study established that most children did not have supportive devices and equipment such as hearing aids and wheelchairs.
No clear policies and laws on the education of children and adolescents with disabilities exist in Zimbabwe. Few policies that the Government does have are not made public, and parents and other interested parties are not informed about them. Once the child has been identified by the clinic or hospital as having a disability, there are no clear-cut policies on what happens next. Care-givers seem to grope in the dark and shop around for assistance without guidance.
Results from the study confirmed the typology of children 'of,' 'on' and both 'on and of the streets.' Many of the children interviewed were 'of the street.' Contrary to popular belief, the study showed that children who slept both at home and on the streets were more vulnerable to a range of risk factors than any other category of children working on the streets. These children were more vulnerable to sexual abuse, abuse of intoxicants, and were more likely to engage in sex and contract STIs. Interestingly, many of the children 'on the street' preferred not to be called street children. They saw themselves as entrepreneurs or small business people.
The study confirmed that street children continue to be treated with score, dislike and violence by the general public and law enforcement agencies. Child sexual abuse continues to be a major issue concerning street children. Many had been sexually abused at home and on the streets. A good number of the children had risky sex behavior, engaged in casual sex, were subjected to rape, prostitution and participated in sex for exchange of goods and services (mainly protection services).
The majority of the children had been forced by poverty onto the streets. However, the immediate causes ranged from death of a parent to child abuse in step-parenting situations. Family dysfunction and disruption appeared to be strong factors in pushing children onto the streets. The study shows the presence of wide gaps in responsibility for the welfare of street children. The death of parents has created gaps in the provision for basic needs of children.
Problems associated with working children range from working long hours with little or no payment; being subjected to abuse of physical, verbal and sexual nature, to carrying out activities that are not commensurate with their physical strength. The demands of the work environment, which is generally hostile to the needs and welfare of a young and growing child, generally lead to poor physical growth (stunting), mental stress, and threaten the moral well-being of the child.
Child Sexual Abuse
With the sensitivity surrounding sexual abuse, it was treated as a cross-cutting issue within all the categories. However, an exhaustive literature review was also undertaken and findings from prior pilot studies in Chikomba and Beitbridge were used to substantiate some major issues emanating from the literature review.
The majority of children who fell victim to sexual abuse were in the age range of 7 to 15 years. Abuse by other children in extended family set-ups is also becoming common where children of opposite sex share one bedroom. An average child never asks and also never tells. The problem of child sexual abuse is a major problem in this country and elsewhere too.
Studies also highlighted that many young girls cannot or dare not express what happened to them. It is often only found out because they have been badly hurt or ill or because someone else has seen the incident. The data from case histories from the Harare Magistrate's Court reveal that all the children wanted to report the abuse but were suffering from self-blame, lack of energy and fear of the authorities, i.e. the mothers, fathers, nurses and police.
It is recommended that the Government of Zimbabwe, with support from other organizations, strengthen service provision through the dissemination of policy and programmatic information to all sectors of the community and through capacity-building and resource allocation.
The Government of Zimbabwe can ensure sustainable development of programmes by empowering community members to implement and monitor their projects. COPE, an NGO in Malawi, provides a demonstrable example on how to foster the confidence of community members during programme implementation.
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