The new power-sharing government in Zimbabwe comes as a worsening
economic crisis sends thousands of refugees each day into neighboring
countries. A growing number of these are children who travel without
parents or any adult relative, which makes them particularly
It is late afternoon and the sun glints on the razor wire of the triple fence line marking South Africa's border with Zimbabwe.
half-dozen boys in ragged clothes scramble through a small opening in
each fence showing how easy it is to cross back and forth from their
At night they often hide in empty vehicles or buildings
at the border post in Beitbridge or sleep across the border to escape
South African police.
But many migrate to a camp on a sprawling
fairground in Musina, 12 kilometers up the road, which offers some food
and some protection.
Seventeen-year-old Ippo Mario arrived
several weeks ago. He fled to South Africa after Zimbabwe's ruling
ZANU-PF party began attacking supporters of the opposition Movement for
Democratic Change following disputed elections last year.
they burnt down my father's shop and threw stones through the glass.
And one time they beat my father. That's when I decided to run away
after my father was dead and my mother also is deceased," said Mario.
Ramugondo works for Save The Children. He says there are more than
1,500 unaccompanied minors in Musina. Many of them arrive with little
more than the clothes on their backs and they sleep outdoors like the
thousands of adults here.
"Their needs, it's - one - to have
shelter, to have a place where they can stay. Two: As an individual
they need personal things like clothing, like blankets, like
toiletries. And most of them they actually want to be in school," said
His group has been able to place 250 children in
local schools. For the others who are still waiting, they have
organized informal classes with volunteer teachers who teach coping
Because they are under-age, refugee children cannot
apply for asylum in South Africa. So an adult aid worker goes with them
to the registration center and helps them fill out the forms.
young women, the dangers are even greater. Sixteen-year-old Riuvarasha
Azangwe was crossing the border with her sister when a gang of young
men, called gumagumas here, tried to rape them in the bushes.
"I fought them. So they said they want to cut me. They cut me and they ran because there were soldiers coming," said Azangwe.
needed 20 stitches to sew up the 10-centimeter-long gash in her arm.
The men took all her belongings including a cell phone with the number
of a relative she was to join in Johannesburg.
A counselor with
Save The Children, Lillian Rambuda, says most of the unaccompanied
girls are invisible. They do not contact the aid agencies because they
are quickly taken in to work on farms or in the sex trade.
especially girls, are under a big challenge because some are starting
to do prostitution while they are still young. They are being grabbed
by big men lying to them, expecting them to do things which they were
not willing to do. As they are stranded and vulnerable they do as they
are told," said Rambuda.
The heartache of these children often
comes out in music such as this song written in the Shona language by
17-year-old Tonderai Muroyiwa.
He sings "please forgive Zimbabwe. Look at the suffering, the people dying. Please help."
groups say the only solution for kids like this is schooling until they
can get jobs. But that could take a long time since there are millions
of unemployed people already in South Africa, from both sides of the