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Child Homelessness Rises in Zimbabwe - 2004-07-29

The number of homeless children working on the streets of Zimbabwean towns is rising. A survey carried out in Harare and nearby Chitungwiza by the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children looks at some of the reasons behind the rising homelessness.

The report cites Zimbabwe's declining economy as the main reason children end up living and working on the streets. It says the AIDS pandemic is also contributing to the number of children who leave homes after losing their parents.

The problem of street kids dates back to the early 1990s, when the government embarked on an economic restructuring program. According to official estimates, some 12-thousand children are on the streets of Zimbabwean towns, with five-thousand in Harare and Chitungwiza.

Tranos Masengwe, a senior projects officer at the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children, says the economic downturn is wreaking havoc on the extended family system, which used to provide a safety net for children whose parents, for whatever reason, could not look after them.

"In cases where these children are accommodated in those extended families, you will find that the prime motive will not be to accommodate them, but perhaps, in some cases, to abuse them, and even take their property that they will have inherited from their dead parents. After using the children, then they dump the children."

The report says the number of children who beg for a living or do odd jobs, like guarding and washing cars to help support families, is also on the rise.

The report says the government and the numerous non-governmental organizations that run support programs for children are woefully underfunded. It recommends that, to the extent possible, homeless children should either be reunited with their families or placed in foster homes.