Zimbabwe was once an African role model in the field of education. With thousands of schools closed due to economic problems, things are now different. Although the economy has slightly stabilized, millions of people are struggling to eke out a living. Among those who suffer most are the country's children - many of them growing up without parental support.
The majority of people continue to live in poverty
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country situated in the southern part of the African continent. It shares borders with South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique.
A young girl growing up in an SOS family (photo: S. Kitshoff)
In 1965, Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom. However, it was not before 1980 that former Rhodesia finally became independent as "Zimbabwe" after a guerrilla uprising had led to free elections.
Since independence, the destiny of the country has been heavily tied to President Robert Mugabe.
Although the economy is officially growing, most people continue to be affected by the economic instability. The country's debt burden remains high and the situation on the labour market is dramatic as the majority of Zimbabweans remain unemployed. According to the World Bank, about 72 per cent of people live in poverty. The country has been suffering from a "brain drain" as tens of thousands of educated, much-needed professionals have left Zimbabwe to work elsewhere.
HIV/AIDS remains a major public health problem
14 per cent of Zimbabweans live a life with HIV/AIDS, one of the highest prevalence rates in the world. Out of one million people infected, 180,000 are children. The disease therefore remains the most striking public health issue in the country. Children whose parents are HIV-positive face multiple vulnerabilities, such as becoming infected themselves, the risk of losing parental care, social discrimination and neglect.
Zimbabwe boasts one of Africa's highest literacy rates and the country's education system was once considered the best in the region. However, the situation has been deteriorating over recent years. About nine in ten schools remain closed and primary education is unaffordable for millions of families who struggle to eke out a living
Hundreds of thousands continue to be without access to sanitation, sewage systems and potable water. Rural areas are particularly hard hit: around 60 per cent of pumps do not work and approximately two million people remain without access to improved water sources.
Zimbabwe is marked by high levels of inequality. While some Zimbabweans live a life in luxury, others lack even the most basic resources such as decent housing, food and drinking water.
Children who have lost parental care have little support
Twins feeling safe and having fun with their SOS mother (photo: S. Kitshoff)
Although a number of laws and regulations aiming to protect Zimbabwean children do exist, many of them are difficult to enforce due to a lack of resources. A high number of children never receive a birth certificate, which makes it difficult for them to be enrolled in school and seek medical attention. Although progress has been made in terms of child protection, rape and sexual abuse of children continue to be serious problems. According to official records, more than 5,000 children are raped every year in the country. The police believe the figure to be much higher as many crimes aren’t reported. Young girls are particularly vulnerable to rape as some men in Zimbabwe believe that having sex with a virgin will cure them from HIV/AIDS. It has been reported that underage marriage is extremely common in rural, isolated areas of the country.
Endemic poverty and alarmingly high levels of HIV/AIDS among children, particularly among orphaned children, can be observed. Due to the socioeconomic conditions in the country, tens of thousands of children remain without access to medical services. Every day, more than one hundred children in Zimbabwe die from diseases that are easily curable in the west. According to UNICEF estimates, there are around 1,200,000 orphans living in Zimbabwe. Around 890,000 of them have been orphaned due to AIDS. Around 80 per cent of orphaned children do not receive any form of external support. Chronic malnutrition affects roughly a third of all children and around eleven per cent of all Zimbabwean children are born with low birth weight.
SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe
The work of SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe began in the 1980s when the former Austrian ambassador requested help and protection for the country's orphans.
Our organisation has reacted to the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in the country by starting SOS Family Strengthening Programmes. The programmes enable children who are at risk of losing parental care to grow up within a caring family environment. In order to achieve this, our organisation has been closely cooperating with families and communities to empower them to effectively protect and care for their children.
When children can no longer stay with their families, they are cared for by their SOS mothers in one of the SOS families. At present, we are helping Zimbabwean young people and children in three different locations by providing day care, education and vocational training.
At present there are three SOS Children's Villages in Zimbabwe, three SOS Youth Facilities, three SOS Kindergartens, five SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, one SOS Vocational Training Centre and seven SOS Social Centres.
SOS Children's Village Association of Zimbabwe
P.O.Box HG 766
tel. +263-4-746 451
fax +263-4-746 454