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ZIMBABWE: New plan to coordinate OVC programmes
IRIN News
June 06
, 2005

http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=47498

HARARE - More than a million Zimbabwean orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) are set to benefit from an ambitious National Plan of Action (NPA) endorsed by the government.

Vulnerable children are defined by the NPA as girls and boys under the age of 18, who have at least one deceased parent, are destitute or chronically ill, are abused sexually or as a result of illegal employment, have physical disabilities, or have been illegally contracted in underage marriages.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Zimbabwe, which plays a facilitating role and through which funds for the programme will be channelled, has welcomed the NPA as a significant step towards creating an environment supportive of the needs of children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

"UNICEF applauds the government's commitment to addressing the urgent needs of orphans and other vulnerable children by endorsing the NPA for OVC and fully supporting its implementation," UNICEF spokesman James Elder told IRIN.

The social welfare ministry said the vision of the NPA was to "reach out to all orphans and other vulnerable children in Zimbabwe with basic services that will positively impact on their lives".

The programme aims to increase new school enrolment of OVCs and the percentage of children with birth certificates - necessary for children to attend school, and access health services and inheritances - and reduce the number of children living outside family environments.

Stakeholders in the NPA have agreed that 25 percent of their objectives should be achieved by December 2005.

The NPA will co-ordinate the work of NGOs and other organisations in the field of OVCs. Busi Marunda, advocacy manager of the Child Protection Society, a Harare-based NGO working with vulnerable children, said there were more than 300 organisations involved in caring for OVCs.

Stakeholders will meet once a month to update each other and highlight challenges facing the programme. A national secretariat of the NPA is already in place to administer day-to-day operations.

The problems are vast. "Zimbabwe has a population of 980,000 children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and the number is growing on a daily basis, owing to the high mortality rate due to the pandemic," said Elder.

The health ministry estimates that by December 2005, Zimbabwe will have 1.1 million orphans, who are vulnerable to sexual and economic exploitation, malnutrition, losing their rights to property, and have limited access to education.

"A UNICEF-led situation analysis of orphans and other vulnerable children, conducted in 2002, found that many children who lack parental care and protection, and do not have a supportive extended family to fall back on, often end up in a negative and vicious cycle of victimisation," said Elder.

Last year a report by the ministry of health indicated that the country had an HIV prevalence rate of 27 percent, while a UNICEF report, 'Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children', released in March 2005, noted that the country had the "world's fourth worst rate of HIV/AIDS".

Outgoing UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy told a recent HIV/AIDS conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, that about 100 Zimbabwean children became HIV-positive every day, while one in every five children was an orphan.

The worsening economic situation, characterised by an unemployment rate of more than 70 percent, has prompted an estimated 3 million people to leave the country in the past five years, which has also contributed to child vulnerability.

Marunda told IRIN that a significant number of children were left without proper care when their parents left the country in search of greener pastures, and mostly ended up on the streets, where they lost the chance to get an education and were open to sexual abuse.

"The beauty of the NPA is that it sets standards for organisations working with children, while donors are encouraged to increase their commitment to the cause of children," Marunda noted.

"However, let's not lose sight of the fact that striving to improve the lives of orphans and other children is a process that has been taking place for a long time through existing NGOs, and the NPA is mostly to consolidate that process," she pointed out.

A shortage of funds presented the greatest challenge to the NPA. "Past experiences have demonstrated that although Zimbabwe has a well-defined legislative and policy framework to support children, lack of resources has prevented full implementation of key national policies," noted Elder.

The NPA document indicated that the programme would require around US $1.2 million over a three-year period. It has been agreed that donors will provide $1.1 million and the Zimbabwean government will provide the rest, while the social welfare ministry will provide facilities such as office space and staff.

"The challenge to all of us is to work together to ensure adequate resources, strong political will and collective urgency to make this plan a reality for every orphaned child in Zimbabwe, and to guarantee that their rights to survival, development, protection and participation are upheld," said Elder.

Sydney Mhishi, the director of social services in the social welfare ministry, said the tangible results of the NPA would be felt in the next three to five years.

He added that significant progress had been made to set up structures for the NPA, but acknowledged that an audit of work on the ground had yet to be done.

"National and provincial secretariats are in place to carry forward the implementation of the NPA for OVCs," Mhishi told IRIN. "In terms of education, shelter, food, protection from abuse, violence, exploitation and discrimination, the secretariat has already started mapping, in order to have a clear picture of which stakeholders are doing what."

Mhishi said the NPA's co-ordinated approach has given government insight into the needs of orphans, while useful observations have also been made about the activities of NGOs working with OVCs.

He said there was need for greater co-ordination among stakeholders because there was a concentration of projects and duplication of efforts in some areas, while others were completely ignored.

Although most of the burden to improve the welfare of OVC remained with NGOs, faith-based organisations and community-based organisations, Mhishi noted that the role of the NPA was not to create new organisations but to consolidate the work of existing ones.

These NGOs have been under some strain, since most of their traditional donors have scaled back their financial support or completely pulled out, due to fears surrounding the NGO Bill, according to the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO).

The Bill, which seeks to monitor the finances of NGOs and outlaws external funding for organisations perceived as pursuing a political agenda, has been passed by parliament and forwarded to President Robert Mugabe for approval, but he has sent it back to the legislature for further deliberations.

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