UNICEF report: Rights of women and children remain critical in Zimbabwe
By Bertha Shoko
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 22 March 2011 – Tanaka Zoma, 14, is in seventh grade at Musarava Primary School in Zaka, Masvingo Province. He should be in ninth grade like most of his friends.
Since his mother died two years ago, Tanaka has been in and out school. In order to care for his two younger brothers, he took up piecemeal jobs – fetching water, herding cattle and helping out in local fields in exchange for food or money.
“My brothers and I never went to bed hungry, because I took it upon myself to work hard,” he says. “But having all this responsibility meant that I had no time for school.”
Tanaka is now back in school full time, thanks to the Basic Education Assistance Module, a programme that assists vulnerable children with school costs, and local community members, who help look after him and his brothers.
He still works on the weekends, but now dreams of a better future. “I want to be a doctor when I finish school, because I know that with a doctor’s salary I can take care of myself and my brothers,” he says.
Tanaka’s story is unfortunately all too common in Zimbabwe, a reality articulated in the Situational Analysis (Sitan) on the Status of Women’s and Children’s Rights, launched last week by UNICEF and the Government of Zimbabwe.
The report, which compiles the latest data on women’s and children’s rights, shows that worrying levels of poverty and vulnerability are limiting women’s and children’s access to basic social services and social protection. As the Zimbabwean economy has faltered, the poorest quintiles of the population have suffered most in terms of declining access to services.
It recommends developing programmes to combat this, including abolishing user fees for pregnant women and children under five, and initiating a national social cash transfer programme.
The Sitan also notes that gender-based violence and child abuse are major impediments to women’s and children’s development, and that endemic poverty, and HIV and AIDS, are contributing to high levels of vulnerability.
One in four children in Zimbabwe has lost one or both parents due to HIV and other causes. There are about 100,000 child-headed households in the country and many children, like Tanaka, have to work to survive.
Urgent action needed
Announcing the findings, UNICEF Zimbabwe Country Representative Dr. Peter Salama called for urgent action. “Despite our collective effort, the status of women and children of this country remains critical,” said Dr. Salama. “We must do everything possible to improve the lives of women and children.”
Dr. Olivia Muchena, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, said the forging of a new constitution presents a window of opportunity for Zimbabweans to address the social and economic disparities faced by women and children.
At the report’s launch, a short video produced during the UNICEF-supported Special Children’s National Consultative Outreach Programme – conducted last year in Harare by the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee – was shown.
During this consultative process young people – representing all 63 districts of Zimbabwe – had the opportunity to express what they wanted in the new constitution. Contributions included guarantees on access to education, health and social protection.
Blue print for collective action
Delivering the key note address, Hon. Thokozani Khupe, Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, said the report should be considered a “blue print” to address the challenges faced by women and children across the country.
“Our progress as a Government should be measured by how successfully we have been in helping women and children, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, to realize their rights,” said Hon. Khupe. “We must consider this Situational Analysis of Women and Children as a blue print for collective action to support the most pressing development priority of our times.”
She added: “As Government, we remain committed to accelerate our efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. It is increasingly clear that women and children are central to the achievements of the majority of these goals.”
The report will help inform the priorities of UNICEF and the Government of Zimbabwe in the coming years.