HOLDING a piece of typed paper in her hand, the 10-year-old girl stands right in the middle of the road. Although the writing on the paper is not legible, she is uses it to beg for money to buy school stationery.
“Both my parents are late. Every day after school I travel from Epworth (25km from the Harare’s central business district) where I stay with my ailing grandmother. I have to raise money to buy books and the only way I can get the money is through begging,” said the small girl.
Sporting worn-out clothes, draping a jersey, and tattered peep toe shoes, the girl manoeuvres in the middle of the busy and congested streets of the capital knocking at the windows of vehicles at traffic intersections.
The few coins she collects from well-wishers are not enough to buy anything from a bookshop, and she instead dashes to the nearest delicatessen to buy food.
Such is the life of the common Zimbabwean child who has succumbed to the effects of a crumbling economy in the face of a deadly pandemic — HIV and Aids.
With record company closures and an alarming rate of unemployment, the younger generation’s hope has been cast into dissolution leaving many to assume adulthood responsibilities.
“While other children of their age are in school, children especially from vulnerable communities are spending most of their time in the streets, begging for a living. At a tender age they have assumed responsibilities of bringing food to the table and this affects the wellbeing of a child,” said Justice Mbiva, director of the Vision HIV/Aids, an organisation that works with children in slum communities.
Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is worsening and with the high levels of unemployment, this is driving a fresh wave of labour migrants into neighbouring countries, resulting in an influx of child-headed families who go onto the streets as beggars.
“Many children now miss their right to care and protection, thus all laws that protect the children need to be articulated and implemented. The implications remain severe because morality of any society is judged by the way we treat our children. Children are the future of a society and street children are the mirror to our future,” said Philip Bhowasi, the chairperson of Social Workers’ Association.
Stakeholders at a conference on Child Sensitive Social Policies held earlier in the year, stated that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) places an obligation on all State parties to invest to the “maximum extent of their available resources” in children to realise their rights.
The Constitution concedes: “The State must adopt policies and measures to ensure that the best interests of the children concerned are paramount. It must take appropriate legislative and other measures to protect children from exploitative labour practices.”
In the view of social workers, governments with the aid of related fiscal measures must take appropriate measures to help the plight of children though many governments fail to invest sufficiently on children.
They urged the government to use tax policy to enhance its domestic revenue and promote economic development whilst at the same time ensuring that households retain disposable income to support investments in children.
According to a report by Bob Libert Muchabaiwa from Save the Children during the Child Sensitive Social Policies conference, fiscal policy can be used to address child poverty, inequality and social exclusion.
In his report, Muchabayiwa says: “The African Child Policy Forum has argued that the government budget and related fiscal measures are key economic policy tools that can be used to implement child rights.”
A study by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has revealed that since the beginning of the year at least 75 companies in all facets of the economy have shut business.
“With the prevailing economic conditions in which more than 80% of the population is unemployed, there is reason to believe that the future of children has been compromised as many are being left by their parents who are flooding neighbouring countries in search of employment.
“Many are left at a high risk of dropping out of school and eventually begging in the streets as they would assume the duties of being breadwinners,” Vincent Tafirenyika, a social worker, said.
As social analysts maintain that the future and morality of any society is reflected and judged by the way children are treated, as the small children grapple for life in the dirty, unfriendly and potholed streets of the capital as a result of a failed economy — the mirror of Zimbabwe’s future seems to be bleak.