Cablegate: Hiv/Aids, Economy Exacting Toll On Children

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Almost one-tenth of Zimbabwe,s population consists
of AIDS orphans-having lost one or both parents to the
disease. Most try to carry on living as they had before,
although some do take to the streets of the major cities to
hustle for a living and/or turn to commercial sex work to
make ends meet. During March 2004, poloff met with local
NGOs in Harare, Bulawayo, and rural areas in Matabeleland
North and Mashonaland East, UNICEF, and the Ministries of
Home Affairs and Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare to
discuss the effect both HIV/AIDS and the deteriorating
economic situation has had on children; the link between HIV
orphans, prostitution, and street kids; and government
responses and initiatives to address these problems. The
survey confirms conclusions from the most recent Human Rights
Report that the GOZ commitment to children's rights and
welfare has deteriorated over the last few years in spite of
legislation that protects children. The survey also revealed
that HIV/AIDS is exacting a heavy toll on children often
thrust into adult roles who suffer poor nutrition and abuse
and abandon their education, particularly in commercial farm
communities. The interviews did not necessarily support the
hypothesis that the increase in HIV/AIDS orphans has led to
the growing phenomena of street children or child
prostitution, which appear to be more a function of
Zimbabwe's deteriorating economic situation. End Summary.

Effect of HIV and Economy on Children

2. (U) The combination of the HIV/AIDS and humanitarian
crises has resulted in a growing number of orphans and
vulnerable children (OVC). With formal unemployment
estimated at 70 percent and destitution on the rise, the
coping strategies, especially within extended families, to
look after orphans are quickly being eroded. In addition,
orphaned children are often denied access to basic health and
educational services and are at increased risk of being
abused and contracting HIV.

Situation on Commercial Farms
3. (U) The Farm Orphan Support Trust (FOST), a local NGO
established by the Commercial Farmers Union in the early
1990s to address the rising AIDS orphan problem on commercial
farms, told poloff that the land redistribution program had
eroded the ability of many farm communities to care for
non-related children orphaned or vulnerable as a result of
HIV/AIDS because of disruptions to employment. The number of
orphans on commercial farms in Chipinge in Manicaland and
Mashonaland Central jumped from 17 per farm in October 2002
to 25 per farm in October 2003. FOST also recorded an
increase in both marriages between young teenage girls and
older men and teen births.

4. (U) FOST carried out a baseline survey of OVC on 95 farms
in three districts in Mashonaland Central during October
2003. The results of the survey showed that 12.29 percent of
households (1722) were classified as vulnerable (having a
single parent, elderly, or young primary caregiver). Within
the vulnerable cohort, 80.49 percent were female headed,
22.14 percent elderly headed, 8.6 percent headed by someone
aged 17-24, and 1.1 percent headed by someone younger than
17. Almost 22 percent (21.66) of all children younger than
17 years of age on the farms were classified as
orphaned--having lost at least one parent--or
vulnerable--living with a chronically ill parent or
caregiver. Two-thirds of the children were younger than 13
years of age.

5. (U) The survey also identified problems these OVC face,
including access to schools, health services, and birth
certificates. The survey showed that 5,887 children, 43 or
49 percent of the youth population depending on the reference
group, did not have birth certificates. A 2000 enumeration
in Mashonaland Central showed more than 40 percent of
orphaned children as not having birth certificates.

Matabeleland North
6. (U) In Matabeleland North, Poloff met with Bekezela, a
local NGO helping AIDS orphans located in the mining
community of Inyathi, Bubi district, and the Matabeleland
AIDS Council (MAC) and Masiye Camp in Bulawayo to discuss the
orphan situation. The director of Bekezela commented that
the number of deaths among people aged 17 to 40 was high and
that the orphans were often discriminated against. Forms of
discrimination included denial of access to school (boys
often herd cattle instead) or adequate clothing, sexual
abuse, and overburdening with chores. The director also
commented that she had noticed an increase in early marriage
of girls aged 14 and 15 to older men, in which presumably
orphanhood was a factor. These men are typically members of
groups with high HIV risks (gold panners and miners who
frequent sex workers), thereby increasing the girls, risk of
contracting HIV/AIDS. At one mine in the community, 90
percent of those tested were HIV positive.

7. (U) MAC has been working with Matabeleland companies to
develop workplace HIV/AIDS policies but this initiative has
not had much success with the area's mining companies,
according to Bekezela's observations. When asked if they had
seen an increase in child rapes, MAC said they had not.
(Note: Many people still believe that having sex with a
virgin will cure them of HIV. End Note.) In fact, they said
the Traditional Healers Association (THA) had embarked on an
HIV training campaign to discourage the membership from
encouraging sex with virgins as a cure for AIDS. THA is also
teaching safer blood practices to its membership.

8. (U) In Mashonaland East, poloff met with Uzumba Orphan
Trust (UOT) in Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe district and Mother of
Peace Orphanage in Murehwa. The director of UOT estimated
that 75 percent of the orphans in the area were AIDS orphans.
UOT said that inheritance practice was a big challenge for
many of the children since local custom permits the
children's paternal relations to take everything from the
deceased relative's home, leaving the children destitute. UOT
has been working to sensitize local headmen and communities
to the plight of AIDS orphans and to encourage support for
them. Neither UOT nor Mother of Peace Orphanage noticed an
increasing trend of AIDS orphans migrating to growth points
or cities.

Street Kids: A Growing Problem

9. (U) Street kids have grabbed the headlines over the last
six months because of recent criminal acts perpetrated by
homeless people, as well as government roundups of the
homeless. The media and lawmakers have blamed street kids
for these crimes, but they often define a street kid or youth
as someone as old as 25 to 34 years. Most of the crimes
reported in the press were committed by men 18 years and

10. (U) In Harare, poloff met with Streets Ahead and Child
Protection Society (CPS), Harare-based NGOs that work with
street children, and UNICEF to discuss the situation.
Streets Ahead and UNICEF indicated that many of the children
in the streets are not homeless and live in Harare's
high-density suburbs (Epworth, Mbare, Hatfield) but are sent
to the city center to &work.8 Of those children who do
live on the streets, the reasons for this phenomenom range
from being HIV/AIDS orphans, poverty, and unemployment to
step-parent abuse and displacement due to land resettlement.
Streets Ahead noted that one sees few girls on the streets
during the daytime because they are sleeping in preparation
for their nighttime commercial sex work. Last year, Streets
Ahead wanted to hold a series of community education meetings
to discourage parents from sending their children to the
cities to work but were banned from holding the meetings
under the repressive Public Order and Security Act that has
been used to thwart public demonstrations since its
implementation in 2002. CPS noted that even border towns,
like Beitbridge at the South African border, are experiencing
an increase in street kids, many of whom often engage in
prostitution. A formal study to quantify the number of
street kids has not been conducted since 2000, when UNICEF
estimated Zimbabwe had 12,000.

11. (U) Masiye Camp, a Bulawayo-based NGO that provides
psychosocial support and life skills to AIDS orphans, noted
an increase in the number of orphans on the street in
Bulawayo. Masiye Camp said the children were in the streets
for a number of reasons but most had homes to which they
could return. Others had run away from institutions. More
than 80 percent of the street kids in Bulawayo are boys,
according to Masiye Camp. The director commented that there
had also been an increase in prostitution and drug
trafficking among minors.

12. (U) The Government has responded to the street kid
problem by authorizing the Zimbabwe Republic Police to round
them up and take them outside of the city limits. The
Ministry of Home Affairs and Department of Social Welfare in
the Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare
maintain that the children aged 16 years and below have been
sent to institutions and children's homes and that families
have not been separated. The Ministry of Home Affairs was
silent on what happens to those over the age of 17 but UNICEF
believes them to have been sent to farms to work, unless the
Department of Social Welfare assessed them to be criminals.
Both Streets Ahead and UNICEF reported hearing credible
stories from children of being rounded up and dropped off in
the rural areas with no food or water.

Birth Certificates Difficult to Obtain

13. (U) The GOZ and NGOs recognize that the current system of
birth registries is inadequate and in need of an overhaul.
According to UNICEF, 30 percent of children nationwide did
not have birth certificates but the situation varied widely
from district to district. For example, in Chipinge South in
Manicaland 60 percent of children did not have birth
certificates while in Rusape, just outside of Harare, 15
percent of children did not have birth certificates. Without
a birth certificate, a child cannot proceed beyond grade 7 in
school, cannot access available social services, and would
not be able to register to vote upon reaching age 18. FOST
and Streets Ahead hypothesized that birth registrations were
not happening because of an inherent mistrust of foreigners
(many farm workers are foreign born) and the idea that farm
workers are anti-government (in the case of farm worker
families) and that orphans would become opposition voters
once they get older.

14. (U) Poloff met with Deputy Minister of Home Affairs
Shadreck Chipanga to discuss the issue of birth certificates.
Chipanga is also the MP for Makoni East, a district in
Manicaland with a high proportion of farm workers who trace
their roots to neighboring countries and who do not own
identity cards. Chipanga denied the theory that the GOZ was
not interested in getting farm worker families and orphans
registered for fear that they would become opposition party
supporters. He lamented the fact that in his own district,
lots of people did not have birth certificates or identity
cards so they could not register to vote or vote for him.
(Note: The identity card issue has a long history in the
commercial farming sector. Commercial farm workers typically
came from Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi and did not need
identification cards to work. Several had no identification
from their native countries so they couldn't obtain identity
documents from Zimbabwe either. Because the parents need to
have identity cards or birth certificates to register their
children, these immigrants, children were also not
registered. Commercial farmers didn't facilitate obtaining
birth certificates for farm worker children because the
children then could go to school beyond grade 7 and would
more likely leave the cheap farm labor pool. End Note.)
Chipanga identified recent legislation (the Citizenship of
Zimbabwe Amendment Act) and initiatives (sub-offices in
clinics and hospitals to record births immediately) that
would facilitate birth registries and obtaining Zimbabwean
identification cards.

Government Response

15. (U) True to GOZ statements of late, the Director of the
Department of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public
Service, Labor, and Social Welfare expressed a certain
mistrust and disdain for the NGO community working on the
problems of AIDS orphans and street kids. In a meeting with
poloff, the director lamented the lack of coordination
between the NGOs and government and among the NGOs
themselves. He also asserted that the NGOs have an interest
in not helping the children fully and in trying to keep
children on the streets or otherwise dependent on NGO
services. Despite this disdain, the Ministry has worked with
the NGO community on a number of initiatives to address the
burgeoning problem of OVC and street kids.

16. (U) In June 2003, the Government, non-governmental
organizations, community-based organizations (CBO),
faith-based organizations (FBO) and children met at a
national stakeholders conference in Harare to widen the
consultative process and secure broad-based support for a
National Plan of Action for Orphans and other Vulnerable
Children (NPA). The Plan seeks to ensure that OVC are able
to access education, food and health services, birth
registration, and protection from abuse and exploitation
through coordinated efforts by government and civil society.
The Plan is currently under government review.

17. (U) Prior to the NPA, Zimbabwe had two key national
policies and a legal framework specifically geared to support
children. Legislation pertinent to children included the
Child Protection and Adoption Act, the Guardianship of Minors
Act, the Maintenance Act, and the Child Abduction Act.
National policies included the National Orphan Care Policy
and the National AIDS Policy, both adopted in 1999, which
reflected traditional ways of doing things and promoted
collaboration between government and civil society. The
government also adopted a number of programs to assist OVC
such as:
--The Basic Education Assistance Module (a tuition fee,
levy and examination fee assistance provided to OVC);
--Public Assistance, Drought Relief and Assisted
Medical Treatment Programs for vulnerable families;
--A three-percent tax levy to support the National
HIV/AIDS Policy;
--The National Strategy on Children in Difficult
--OVC programs implemented in partnership with CBOs,
FBOs, and NGOs.

18. (U) The Government, NGO, CBO, and FBO community also
formed two task forces last year to address the problem of
street kids. The Harare Street Children Task Force comprised
local NGOs and the Ministry of Public Service, Labor and
Social Welfare. According to UNICEF, it met a few times and
then fizzled out. The National Task Force on Children in
Difficult Circumstances held a workshop in December 2003 in
which street children took part. The results of the workshop
are not yet available.


19. (SBU) Poloff's meetings with NGO and government
representatives were both disconcerting and encouraging. It
was troubling to discover that there are nearly one million
AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe and that the support systems
available to them are haphazard. The mere existence of
legislation that purports to safeguard the rights of the
orphan child are rendered meaningless if the general
population is ignorant of the laws, the laws are not
implemented or enforced, or the general population chooses to
adopt traditional methods of handling the orphans that are
detrimental to the child. It was encouraging, however, to
discover that government ministries are aware and concerned
about the problem and seem to be actively seeking solutions,
often in collaboration with NGOs. Unfortunately, the number
of AIDS orphans is so large that it will be difficult for
government to manage the problem effectively and to preserve
and build human capital without both an improvement in the
economic conditions in the country and an infusion of
assistance from the international community.

20. (SBU) The dimensions of Zimbabwe's problem may not have
reached the scale of other countries, but with no relief to
the economy's implosion in sight, the challenges posed by
Zimbabwe's street kid population can be expected to grow.
The GOZ,s handling of street kids (rounding them up and
shipping them out) is inadequate and myopic, since it does
not address the root causes for the children's migration.
Perhaps with outside support, the existing task forces on
street kids can come up with viable solutions to prevent the
problem from rising to the level of that seen in other
countries like Kenya. Until then, children will take to the
streets to hustle for a living, either through begging,
prostitution, or criminal activities, instead of attending
school and becoming productive members of society. The
growing problem will not only increasingly stress the GOZ's
already overextended social services, but also lead to a
generational human resources deficit that can potentially
constrain the country for many years to come. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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