COVID-19 Double Blow for Child Headed Families

Adults have struggled to raise families in the wake of the pandemic. For child-headed families, it has been a double blow.

Vumani Ncube of Makwandara village in Dete is trying to find his way out of the vicious trap of poverty. He is the eldest in a child-headed household of four children. His situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 induced lockdown, which was put in place in March last year.

Unlike other children who grow under parental care and are provided with almost all their needs, Vumani is a school dropout. When he lost his surviving parent in 2015 to HIV/AIDS, he was 11 years old, doing grade 6. He managed to go to grade 7 with the assistance of some close relatives, who later relinquished this responsibility. Vumani dropped out of school and took charge of his siblings.

In a bid to eke a living, he volunteered to mix clay assisting potters in ceramic moulding products at Gwayi pottery, a business that was severely affected by COVID-19 due to travel restrictions and fewer tourists. Since then, things have not been so well for the 17-year-old.

“Things were better before the lockdown. During the past nine months, we have been surviving from hand-outs and some piece jobs,” says Vumani.

“It has been a difficult time. It’s not easy without formal employment,” he says.

In 2013, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than 56 million children under the age of 15 years in Sub-Saharan Africa had lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS and lived without parental or extended family care or supervision.

In most cases, the eldest child is left with no option but to fend for the family. Most of the Child Headed Households result from parents’ death or the death of one parent and neglect by the surviving one. Since the advent of HIV/AIDS, child-headed households have become a common feature of every community in Zimbabwe.

Child headed households in Dete are struggling to make ends meet without the traditional family structure and adult supervision. This has led some to experience social, educational, psychological, and social development problems. Depending on the state of vulnerability, other orphans show resilience, bravery, and a sense of responsibility as they care for their siblings; however, most struggle to make ends meet as they fail to access basic needs.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, the Food Poverty Line (FPL) for one person in March 2021 was 4,033.00. The Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) for one person stood at $5,312.00. The amount is beyond the reach of many child-headed households. The economic environment affecting Zimbabwe as a country and the effects of COVID-19 have worsened these children’s plight; poverty remains a key constraint in Dete.

According to the Child Protection and Adoption Act Chapter 5:06, a child whose parents are both dead or cannot be traced and has no legal guardian is considered a child in need. The government of Zimbabwe has also implemented the National Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). However, speaking to this publication, Sibusiso Ndlovu, aged 16 years, said such interventions have not been effective as in the blueprint.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, we heard of the relief funds and some allowances, but I never received anything. I had to cut firewood for neighbours and tend their gardens to survive and feed my brothers,” says Sibusiso.

Efforts to get a comment from Hwange District Social Welfare Officer Ivy Mutangadai were in vain as she was not available and could not reply to messages sent to her. Speaking to The Citizen Bulletin, Theresa Mupeti, a project officer with Justice for Children (JCT) and social worker by profession, says child-headed households’ need robust measures to be put in place to protect them.

“Child headed households are going through difficult times. There must be social nets in every society to protect them from vulnerability to poverty, child labour and abuse. The law must be respected in terms of adopting such children by the Social Welfare Department,” she says.

The death of parents is quite traumatic to children. UNICEF notes that the situation is worsened when such orphans feel rejected by relatives and neighbours. Such response distorts and magnifies the effect of loss of parents, deepening the sense of isolation and alienation while creating a context for physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Sam Mpala, a village head in Makwandara, says Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) like World Vision are endeavouring to address the plight of orphans.

“Their services include the provision of shelter, food and clothes hand-outs and in some cases, resources for income-generating projects which are availed to help these children,” says Mpala.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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