By Michelle Chifamba
Child- headed families in Zimbabwe have been left to endure the economic hardships caused by the outbreak of Covid-19 with little support from government, activists have warned.
Zimbabwe has a high prevalence of child-headed households because of the devastating effects of the HIV/Aids pandemic and migration fueled by the collapse of the economy.
Elizabeth Nkomo, a child rights activist in the poor neighbourhood of Harare’s Hatcliffe Extension, said child -headed households in her community were struggling to cope with the economic pressures induced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Child-headed families, without parental support have severely suffered from the economic impact of Covid-19,” Nkomo said.
“This low-income community is faced with challenges of poverty, and children taking care of families have been unable to get food or work to support their siblings.
“Orphaned children have had to endure the worst in this critical time, which has exposed them to various forms of abuse, both physically and sexually.
“They have become exposed to child-prostitution, child-marriages as well as the boys being victims of drug abuse as well as being involved in criminal activities.”
Solomon Ndundu, founder and executive director for Africa Rights Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Harare, said the government was not doing enough to support vulnerable people, including orphans.
“The government should reach out to independent partners, non-governmental organisations and cooperates, who would want to support children from child-headed families,” Ndundu said.
“Child-headed families are at risk of dropping out of school and they need support with income generating projects as well as vocational training so that they become self-sustainable.
“The number of children in the streets has been increasing, some are begging while others have become street vendors.
“The government has to provide safety nets through the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to provide resources and skills to improve the lives of children and make sure that they get support with their education.”
Shamwari Yemwanasikana, a non-governmental organisation that works to empower women and girls, said it was important to pay particular attention to children’s rights during a pandemic.
“As a nation we need to ensure that we create social safety nets that promote and protect the rights of children, not only during a crisis but maintained throughout,” said Florence Mutake, the Shamwari Yemwanasikana programmes co-ordinator.
According to a 2020 United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Zimbabwe situation report, 3.2 million children in Zimbabwe are in urgent need of humanitarian support.
“Children are increasingly exposed to violence, abuse, mental stress, school drop-out and exploitation,” UNICEF said.
“Support for their education, protection and access to protective environments must be scaled up.”
Save the Children Zimbabwe, in its 2020 call to action report on prioritising children in the COVID-19 response noted that the environment in which children grow and develop has been disrupted and vulnerable groups including children with disabilities, those living in urban informal settlements and in rural communities, child headed families were the worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak.