THE high rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe has led to the massive exodus of parents, guardians or persons charged with care or responsibility of children to other countries or urban centres. This has dealt a blow to children’s rights, exposing children to different forms of abuse especially where the children are left in child headed families, with distant relatives or negligent workers.
Section 81 of the Zimbabwe Constitution 2013 states that every child (anyone below the age of 18) has the right to family or parental care, or to appropriate care when removed from the family environment; to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation, from child labour, and from maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse; to education, health care services, nutrition and shelter.
The Children’s Act Chapter 5.06 defines neglect as including but not limited to failure to maintain a child and leaving the child or young person in the care of some other person or an institution and thereafter showing inadequate interest in the well-being of that child for a period in excess of one year; or failure to provide adequate supervision of that child.
The Convention on the Rights of a Child states that States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
Life is difficult for children who find themselves without parental care or adequate parental care .These neglected children often struggle to get basic needs including food and health services. This often leads to children resorting to prostitution and child labour in order to fend for themselves. In some cases the children desert their homes and become street kids.
A research was carried by ZWLA in 2016 that shows that the majority of perpetrators who sexually abuse children are people who are close to them including their relatives or people who stay with the children like domestic workers.
The situation is worsened for neglected children as perpetrators may take advantage of the absence of the parents and sexually abuse them. Such matters are sometimes not reported timeously due to child’s fear of being ridiculed by peers or poor relations with the people they stay with.
It is even more difficult for this child if the perpetrator stays with her, the child is often threatened not to report or bribed by the perpetrator. The abuse often leads to child marriage, unwanted pregnancies and children contracting sexual transmitted disease.
Birth registration is also another challenge that children face. Children are sometimes left with relatives who are also overwhelmed by their own responsibilities and thus fail to register these children. In some cases the children especially, those born out of the country are left without necessary documentation therefore making registration difficult especially where the mother of the child and maternal relatives’ whereabouts are unknown.
The children then struggle to pursue their education and sometimes even when accepted at school they are not allowed to participate in extra curriculum activities as there is no proof of their ages. This infringes on their right to education and identity.
This often leads to some children dropping out of school and sometimes resorting to seeking employment at a tender age. In view of the above it is clear that neglected children are more vulnerable to abuse. Parents who migrate have an obligation to ensure that before relocating they leave the children in the hands of responsible custodians, supervise the children’s welfare, visit the children and communicate with the children to ensure that they are fine. The state has an obligation to ensure that social programmes to support children in need of parental care are effective.
Although the government has intervened in assisting such children in some instances, due to financial constraints some children have not benefited and their struggle continues. Their rights continue to be violated. There is a need for continued cooperation of the state, parents and Civil society to curb such issues .
The community can assist in curbing the problem by reporting cases of neglect of children as it is an offence to neglect children. That way such children may be assisted on time.
Reports can be made to the Department of Social Services, police, or any relevant organisation, which deals with children’s rights issues including Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association.
For more information contact ZWLA at J Tongogara Street/ 14th Avenue, Bulawayo. Tel: 0292 887185-7 , [email protected]