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Who is responsible for the children in Zimbabwe?
Irene Kabete
Extracted from
New World Outlook, November/December 2005

Read New World Outlook article - By the grace of God: The orphans of Zimbabwe

We asked Irene Kabete, a pastor in the Zimbabwe Annual Conference, how children are cared for in Zimbabwe when their parents are no longer around.

Rev. Kabete: In the Zimbabwean culture, an orphan is anyone who has lost one or both parents. If the father is dead, then the child is an orphan, though its mother may be alive and caring for it. Traditionally, if a man dies, his brother is responsible for the surviving wife and children—he inherits them—but this custom is no longer followed by many in Zimbabwe. If a mother dies, the children are more likely to end up on the streets, since a surviving mother will try to care for them, but a surviving father is less likely to do so.

We have street children in Zimbabwe. When I was pastor of Innercity United Methodist Church in Harare, I worked with them all the time. Some were on the streets because they had no one; their parents were dead. But some had parents, or more likely stepparents who abused them, so they preferred to live on the streets. Some runaways had no good reason for being on the streets. They saw their friends there and joined them.

In Zimbabwe and in most of Africa, the family is responsible for a child who has lost parents. But our family is a great extended family, so grandparents or relatives on either the mother’s or father’s side may take the child. The state has nothing to do with raising the children; it does nothing. In larger cities like Harare, the village can’t be depended on either. It is not the same dynamic, but definitely the extended family is counted on to care for the children.

At Innercity UMC, I started a feeding center at the church for street children. But then there were so many coming, the church couldn’t handle them all, so I went to the conference center in Harare to talk about their needs. Between the bishop’s office and the Women’s Desk, enough money was offered to buy a huge tent to set up the feeding station, but we had no room for it, so it was set up at the conference center.

We counseled the children and in many cases were able to reunite them with their parents. Sometimes that involved counseling the parents as well. We’d promise to pay the school fees if they stayed home and stayed in school. For those who had no parents or who were not able to return home, we’d try to put them in an institution close to the church to remove them from the streets. On Sunday they would come to church. I baptized about 40 of them. Our goal was to get them off the streets.

*The Rev. Irene Kabete, a GBGM director, is currently studying for her MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, NJ, and working at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in New York City

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