Orphans face high risk of exploitation
By Nomzamo Gwebu
In Zimbabwe, more than 26.6% of children below the age of 18 are not living with either parent, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The loss of parents often affects the well-being of children as they are often forced to live with members of the extended family or are taken into orphanages. This situation puts the orphans, especially girls, at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Simelokuhle Dube (25) from Mzilikazi, a high density suburb in Bulawayo metropolitan province says she was orphaned at the age of eight. She says her parents succumbed to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) during the time when drugs to combat the virus were not available. Following the death of her parents, Simelokuhle says she experienced challenges that threatened to end her education.
“When my parents died, they did not leave me a place to stay. I was the only child and I moved into the family house where I stayed with my aunt, my two uncles and their families. Two years after I had moved in, my aunt got married and I was told that I must go with her. I felt like I had no place of my own. These changes also meant that I had to change schools,” says Simelokuhle.
Simelokuhle says after moving out from the family house to live with her aunt, she faced a new challenge that came about as a result of the economic situation in the country. She says at that time, her aunt now had her own children and she was struggling to raise money to support everyone.
“When I finished my primary education, my aunt checked the school requirements at local schools. She then told me that she could not afford to pay fees and other requirements demanded by the school. She told me that there was no option for me except to drop off from school and help the family with household chores,” says Simelokuhle.
Simelokuhle says for close to two years she worked as a domestic worker for her aunt with no remuneration except a place to sleep. She says her educational life could have ended at that stage but she was fortunate to get someone who offered to support her studies. The intervention saw Simelokuhle managing to go through her studies and going for tertiary education.
“I am happy that I managed to pursue my studies with support from a complete stranger. I know that there are so many girls who are not going to school because they have no one to support them. This is one of the reasons why girls are marrying young because they would have lost hope or are just taken advantage of because of their poverty,” says Simelokuhle.
Mary Ndlovu (40), a mother of 4 children says poverty is driving the exploitation of children who are now forced to drop out of school. She says parents are not saving enough to cater for their children in the event of untimely death.
“Parents struggle to save money for the future of their children. I have been working for close to 20 years now but I have not saved anything for my children. All my income is eroded by the ever rising inflation. If I die today, my children will be left in poverty and relatives or any other person may take advantage and exploit them,” says Mary.
Mary says the government has failed to put in place safety nets to support poor families and cushion children from dropping out of school when their parents pass on or lose their jobs.
Mary adds that the current programmes to support the education of vulnerable children are underfunded, leaving many children without support. She says the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) programme by the government is only supporting a few children and does not take into consideration other needs such as food, accommodation and uniforms.