Ending child abuse in Zim still a mammoth task

The fight against child abuse is proving to be a mammoth task for the government and non-state bodies seeking to protect and foster children’s rights.

While society understands child abuse to involve sexual, physical and emotional abuse, other forms include child abduction and kidnapping, drug and alcohol abuse by the children themselves as well as neglect and abandonment of children by their families.

Peter (14), not his real name, was born to Malawian parents who have lived in Zimbabwe since 1969. He lives in Shamva, a farming area about 65km northeast of Harare.

His parents are poor farm workers who are paid $50 per month, working more than eight hours a day, except on Sundays when they are given time off to do their laundry.

Up to now, Peter, who also helps his parents whenever he can, does not have a birth certificate, because of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2003 that was amended to outlaw local registration of children born of ‘alien’ parents.

In effect, Peter, who spoke with the blessing of his parents, is now stateless.

“I did not sit for my Grade Seven final examinations last year because I do not have a birth certificate. The school head said no one could write without it. I am angry and my future is bleak since I cannot proceed with my education. Besides, I was more intelligent than most of my peers who are now in secondary school,” complained Peter.

His parents’ failure to register his birth means he cannot proceed with his education and neither can he get an identity card or passport which some of the people in their farming community have used to go to neighbouring countries like South Africa where the reward for their labour is better than in Zimbabwe.

Many other orphaned children are unable to obtain birth registration or identity documents, making it difficult for them to enrol in school and access health services. Despite a 2007 government intervention to decentralise birth registration to rural points, a lot of children still do not have official identity documents.

In 2007 the Ministry of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare and Unicef formalised agreements with 21 NGOs to advance the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children designed to ensure that orphans and vulnerable children accessed formal education, food, health services, and birth registration.

Unicef reported in 2008 that the NGOs involved had reached more than 200,000 orphans and vulnerable children with comprehensive support and protection since the programme began.

The Labour and Social Services Minister, Paurina Mpariwa said: “There are multi-faceted problems facing children in Zimbabwe. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has left many child-headed families because both parents would have succumbed to the disease. That exposes children to many hardships.

Minors still have to grapple with sexual abuse. Police statistics show that, between 2005 and 2007, child rape tripled.

Betty Makoni, the director of the Girl Child Network says, “Abuse of children, particularly the girl child, is rampant in the home, school or community but girls take time to expose the perpetrators. In most cases perpetrators threaten their victims with violence or the victims are given bribes not to report sexual abuse.’’

A senior nurse at Harare Central Hospital, Zvanaka Sithole, said cases of unreported rape were only exposed when the hospital treated girls with health complications.

UNICEF estimates that at least 10,000 children were displaced in election-related violence in 2008.

Several thousands were also displaced together with their parents as a result of farm-related violence and evictions from 2000 when President Robert Mugabe embarked on a fast track land redistribution programme.

The Deputy Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Jessie Majome, who is a lawyer, told The Zimbabwean that a lot needed to be done to protect the rights of children.

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