12-year-old Grace reaches through rubbish dumps with her bare hands to find bones to sell for school fees; nine-year-old Esther has now become a full time carer for her baby sister and her mother who is dying of HIV/AIDS and her school days are over; and 13-year-old Obert works at a gold claim spot to make enough money to buy food for himself and his grandmother, while dreaming of somehow getting the education he will never have.
It was August 2010, I sat down to watch TV with my family when BBC 4 screened the true nature of the life of children in Zimbabwe. Of cause the Zimbabwean government condemned the release and broadcasting of the film but, thank God, the secret was out. As for the silenced children of Zimbabwe, they were given a platform to reveal the truth and the reality of the majority of children living in poverty in Zimbabwe.
The birth of a child into this world is an extraordinary event that surpasses almost all natural events of life, because a life has been brought to this world. Children do not choose to be born, where to be and why they are born, they are just a blessing. Unfortunately, according to WHO and UNICEF, around 95% of children born in Zimbabwe are born and thrust into a life of hunger and poverty.
It is an unfortunate and sad fact that’s affecting most children in Zimbabwe and it has become a norm to see children roaming around city centres with torn clothes even in the worst weather conditions. If those children had been asked whether they wanted to be born to such a life, most would likely prefer not to have seen the light of this world for their suffering is unjustified.
Zanu PF politicians are known by their names and their children are known by their names simply because their lifestyle is there for all of us to see. Their desire is to carry their names with pride and for people to see how lavish their lifestyles are, but what about the names of those children who are struggling to have a meal. Who knows their names? Worse yet, no one seems to care.
There’s a saying which goes along the lines of ‘when two bull elephants fight, none of them gets seriously hurt but the grass on the ground’. In this case, children in Zimbabwe are the grass; they are innocent, fragile and defenceless but they are the casualties of the government’s corruption and induced suffering.
Many children are left orphaned and many have become carers for their AIDS suffering parents. The epidemic also increased vulnerability, income poverty, and provoked stigma and discrimination against children caring for parents living with or affected by HIV and AIDS as they are prone to being targeted for prostitution.
Zanu PF budget allocations to child protection services remain hopeless if not non-existent and resources are oftentimes insufficient. Research shows that only in Swaziland (41 percent) and Botswana (31 percent) are significant numbers of vulnerable and orphaned children are reached. A report by UNICEF shows that Zimbabwe has the highest number of children as young as 6 who care for ill parents suffering from AIDS; as a result, these children’s education and hope for the future is affected and yet government officials live lives of splendour, consciously ignorant of the suffering of the children in Zimbabwe.
The fact that some orphans are also HIV positive, in most cases the infection transmitted from their parents, makes their predicament worse as the children need medication and extra care but to no avail. The political situation in Zimbabwe where parties are fighting for power has been going for a long time with Zanu PF clinging onto power regardless of their clear incompetence with regard to the economy. With all the power struggle at its peak, no one seems to take time to focus on the young children of Zimbabwe who are the real victims and casualties of political strife.
Corruption is rife in Zimbabwe and there seems to be no end to it without the complete removal of those involved; and every finger points to President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF officials. Lack of justice, an increase in corruption and a total ignorance regarding the upholding children’s welfare and rights is slowly obliterating any hope for the future of many Zimbabwean children.
With over 95% of unemployment and an increase in poverty, it is difficult to envision any hope for the majority of our children. Whilst many in Zimbabwe are literate due to the country’s former educational excellence but now the majority of schools are closed. Most of those still open are in a catastrophic state and young children are missing out on an education.
For many, when schooling is available it is unaffordable and, sadly, many as young as 10 years old are languishing in the streets and prostituting themselves. Some are ending up as criminals and, sadly, no one is brought to justice for these crimes against children. If one speaks up against the government about its abuses and crimes against humanity they end up disappearing like Itai Dzamara while those who are lucky are often thrown in prison.
The numbers and statistics don’t lie, but we have a government that has lied and have not owned up to their grievous crimes against Children’s rights. To clearly articulate the extent of hopelessness of children’s future in Zimbabwe, the National Plan of Action for Children has not been updated since 2004 and this signifies that these poor children are just a forgotten issue. In addition, there currently exists no comprehensive social protection policy in Zimbabwe to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all deprived children. No career support facilities to guide them in their education.
Maybe this is deemed unworthy by the government since there won’t be any jobs or prospects for the young children when they grow up. Evidently, in Zimbabwe there are no rights for children and their special needs are often placed below other priorities at all levels leading to lost opportunities in terms of human and economic development. Therefore, the central role of childhood in shaping individual capabilities and the importance of stability and economic progress for families to a country’s development remain overlooked.
I remember vividly the late Sally Mugabe how she was so affectionate and loving towards children and orphans and how she was dedicated to the development of the future generation of Zimbabwe. The same can’t be said about Grace Mugabe, given the fact that she demands to be called “mother of the nation”. She has only managed to exacerbate the psychological and emotional strife of the children of Zimbabwe by abandoning her duties and mandate as the first lady to ensure the prosperity and development of children in Zimbabwe.
All children see is a first lady who dances in these lavish ceremonies, downed in expensive jewellery and pictures of her shopping in Paris. For how long shall the young children suffer as the world watches on? They say children are our future, but in Zimbabwe that is all but a hopeless and sorrowful so is the future of our young children. What future is there for the young girls, some young as 8-years-old who are being married to older man for their parents to receive early lobola?
These children are being damaged both physical and emotionally to a point where most of them have become callous to all forms of abuse because there is no hope. No child should have to suffer, no child should have to be forced into marriage, no child should have to be forced to abandon school but that is a reality that most children are living, and yet there is no shame from the government for all these crimes. US$15 billion goes missing, so they say, but some of that money could have ensured a future for most Zimbabwean children but that money has only ensured a future for Zanu PF officials and their children.
So far the government has failed miserably to ensure the safety and development of children in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, for children in Zimbabwe, it doesn’t seem that change will come unless there is a change in government, change in leadership and change in people’s mentality to overcome fear of reprisals. The majority of children in Zimbabwe are living in poverty, exposure to diseases and a despondent future. This has progressively, over time, worsened and, while we wait and look to the leadership to help, the young generation is perishing.
Now is the time to voice our concerns and stand for our children who don’t have a voice. Our children have been left wondering what life could have been like and most of them are bound by the spirit of defeat. We as a nation should strive to set a brighter future for our young children. Let us not tire to speak for the young ones, let us pray for a change in our leadership and the appointing of those who will greatly embellish the lives of our children by providing basic needs and upholding their rights.
Lastly I applaud children in Zimbabwe for your resilience, for your tenaciousness and your continuing to hope even when it seems impossible and to get up every day not knowing what life has in store for you. What keeps you going is the belief that change will come and that one day your hopes will be a reality.