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Call for laws to protect children
The Standard (Zimbabwe)
August 26, 2007

DESPITE the proliferation of organisations ostensibly dedicated to the welfare of abandoned and orphaned children in the cities and towns, a solution to the problem seems as far away as it has ever been, according to many people involved in this largely voluntary endeavour.

Others are calling for drastic reforms in the child protection laws of the country, as they believe the present legal arrangements are not enough to ameliorate the state of the child.

Recently, The Standard's Zvipo Muzambi conducted a survey of the street life of the child in Harare. She also sounded out the concerns of the army of volunteers who spend largely thankless hours trying to improve the welfare of - the children. Tawanda Maronga spends his day in the streets of Harare selling sweets or begging for money.

Like many other children found on the streets, Tawanda exudes confidence and has developed the uncanny knack of evading municipal police, whose daily routine is to pounce on vendors, confiscating their wares.

The only time the streetwise Tawanda loses his cool and looks as vulnerable as a bird with a broken wing is when one starts talking of his background.

At 13, Tawanda should be in Form One but he has never set foot in a classroom because his mother says she cannot afford the fees. "My mother is blind," he said last week.

"I am told that my father passed away when I was just a baby," he says, suppressing a choke in his voice, trying hard to hold back the tears. "The only place I knew as my home in Mbare was destroyed under Operation Murambatsvina.

"We don't have a home anymore. I sleep at Mbare bus terminus with my mother. The Roman Catholic Church in Mbare can only provide us with blankets. I come here looking for money to make things easier for my mother."

Tawanda's companion is seven-year-old Marvellous Muvha, who has learnt to toil for her own education at that tender age. While girls of her age spend most of their time playing, she spends the day sitting at a street corner, selling sweets and cigarettes.

"I stay in Epworth with my mother and I come here everyday," she said. "My mother leaves me here while she goes to search for goods with reduced prices. I go to school at Domboramwari Primary in Epworth and this business contributes to my school fees. My mother can only afford to feed me and my brother."

Marvellous said her father abandoned them after he married another woman.

Tawanda and Marvellous are among many Zimbabwean children who have become victims to the harsh economic meltdown. As the hardships worsen, many children now work in the streets of Harare, trying to raise money to help their families keep the wolf from the door.

The children, many from broken homes, are spotted in the city, selling cigarettes, brooms and fruits. Some said they had to work because fewer and fewer Zimbabweans were now willing to help their parents with handouts: they too may have hit rock-bottom as a result of the deepening economic crisis.

Research by New Hope Foundation, a child care organisation, established that many of the children living and working on the streets were victims of the government's controversial clean-up operation launched two years ago.

"A good number of them are coming from our operational areas such as Hopley, Dzivaresekwa, Caledonia and Epworth," said David Chitsungo, a grants, development and compliance officer with New Hope Foundation.

"The children lack sustainable sources of livelihood. Seventy percent of them are HIV and Aids orphans," he said. "As a result they find sustenance from working for themselves and begging on the streets."

But in the streets, the children are exposed to many forms of abuse. Young girls are the most vulnerable to exploitation as they are desperate for survival. Many of them are taken from the streets and end up in the brothels where they are abused.

Betty Makoni, director and founder of Girl Child Network said: "The worst thing that can happen to a child is to be working on the streets. There is so much potential in these children. My worry is why we still see so many children on the streets when there are many child-care organisations. There is need to redirect our efforts for us to achieve more."

Makoni said the "street life" of the girl child was harder than that of boys as they doubled up as commercial sex workers at night. "The girl child has a double tragedy -being a child who needs to be looked after, and a woman at night. This is both child labour and exploitation."

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