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ZIMBABWE: New plan to coordinate OVC programmes
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
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
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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