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AIDS orphans and vulnerable children bear the brunt of collapsing
November 15, 2005
KWEKWE - She's
a sex worker, but not many passers-by would suspect that the slight
figure standing in a narrow street opposite a nightclub in Zimbabwe's
gold mining town of Kwekwe is also a university student.
Tracy Bunjwali, a second-year business studies scholar and part-time
prostitute, says her biggest fear is that she might bump into somebody
she knows while out on the streets waiting to be taken to a nearby
She has little choice, she says. Orphaned during the last term of
high school two years ago, the 23-year-old has to support a brother
and sister still at school after her parent died of AIDS-related
Despite a government-run education assistance programme for vulnerable
children and those orphaned by AIDS, the grant falls well short
of needs in a country weighed down by triple-digit inflation.
"My uncle, a municipal general hand, took us in when both our parents
died, despite that he was struggling to feed, clothe and send his
own six children to school," Bunjwali said.
"I don't come here often. I only do so when hard times befall the
family," she explained. "I have to take the risk so that my brother
and sister remain at school."
Bunjwali has to compete with full-time sex workers attracted to
the small mining town in Midlands province, about 225 km southeast
of the capital, Harare, which is enjoying a mini-boom as a result
of illegal gold panning.
Gangs of youths, with almost zero prospects of a formal sector job
in Zimbabwe's shrinking economy, blow off steam in the nightclub
after long, frustrating hours spent clawing for gold underground.
"This is something I never imagined I would do," said Bunjwali.
"I am aware of the risks and have decided to take a routine monthly
visit to the voluntary counselling centre for an AIDS test."
She has been tested three times so far, and all have been negative.
"I have overcome the fear of visiting the centre," she added.
According to government figures, Zimbabwe has 50,000 child-headed
New statistics released by the National AIDS Council (NAC) show
that 1.3 million children under the age of 15 years have lost one
or both parents due to the virus, and an estimated 240,000 children
are believed to be infected.
Despite government efforts to help child-headed households through
the NAC and initiatives such as the Basic Educational Assistance
Module (BEAM), officials admit their efforts, though well-meaning,
have only limited impact.
Through BEAM, NAC assists orphaned children with school fees, school
uniforms, stationery and their general upkeep. But the available
funds are being overwhelmed by demand, and a soaring cost of living
has worsened vulnerability.
NAC is funded by a monthly income tax levy, but unemployment is
estimated at 70 percent and rising, reducing revenue. According
to the latest audit, NAC has incurred a budget deficit of Zim $41
billion (US $3.5 million) on its projected earnings.
The slightly more than 50 registered child-care centres nationwide
can only cater for a total of about 5,000 children at any given
NAC executive director Tapuwa Magure said his cash-strapped agency
had turned to mobilising communities to strengthen the extended
family and encourage fostering children orphaned by AIDS.
But this is far from easy, as seven years of unrelieved economic
crisis has taken its toll on the resilience of family ties in Zimbabwe.
"My mother's brother is struggling to cope with his own family and,
naturally, his children take precedence," said Bunjwali. "He is
doing his best, but I have to come in and assist."
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