An estimated 25% of Zimbabwean children are 'vulnerable' in development speak. That means they are defined as 'likely to experience a range of deprivations that inhibit their chances to survive to adulthood and fulfil their inherent potential'. Vulnerability and HIV/AIDS are inextricably intertwined in southern Africa, it is estimated that about a million Zimbabwean children have lost one or both parents due to AIDS. Nearly 50,000 households are thought to be headed by a child under the age of 18.
A more common phenomenon amongst the extremely poor are households led by grandparents, especially grandmothers, who end up taking in their children's children following the devastating effects of AIDS related sickness and death. I recently met Elizabeth, pictured left, who is currently raising six grandchildren following the loss of two of her own children. Providing dependable, long term support to families such as Elizabeth is just as vital as promoting AIDS prevention and treatment campaigns, which are thankfully now reversing the infection and death rates in Zimbabwe.
Just over a hundred household heads gathered in Chishawasha Mission Primary School hall recently to register for a new 'cash transfer' programme which aims to provide the support they need. The families constitute around 10% of the local ward's population and were chosen via a thorough survey. Whilst many had gone to great efforts to attend and dress well, it was clear that many of the elderly present were really struggling to make ends meet without any reliable income.
The local statistics collected presented a shocking picture of the impact of AIDS: the 105 identified households were raising 83 children who had lost one parent and a further 98 who had lost both. Half of the households were caring for a chronically sick person. This burden was falling upon the elderly, especially women, who accounted for around 50% of these household heads.
Careful checks on identification were completed and signatures or thumb prints were provided, prior to monthly cash payments being given to the patiently waiting community members. Lucia (pictured right) walked with a very pronounced stoop, but she was still actively caring for two of her grandchildren. It is humbling to think how much difference regular monthly payments can make to these women and their children, for what would buy little more than a meal in many European cities.
This new social cash transfer has been identified by the Ministry of Labour & Social Services with technical expertise from UNICEF Zimbabwe and funding from the pooled Child Protection Fund of the European Comission and member states: currently the UK (DFID), the Netherlands and Sweden. It encompasses a new household-focused approach to better meet the needs of these disadvantaged children requiring social protection and education.
The aim is to identify those households in the community that are raising children but have no means to earn a living, either because:
- There is no one in the active age range (18 -60) in the household, or the adults are severely disabled / chronically sick
- The fit adult isunable to work as they are raising more than three children.
Budget realities makes these qualifying conditions far stricter than those applied in most Western countries when people try to access welfare payments. By providing these families with regular cash payments (around US$20 a month) a number of benefits are anticipated:
- choice to decide on spending priorities
- more cost effective than food or commodity distribution
- maintains people’s dignity
- benefits local markets and trade
- empowerment to improve women’s and other marginalised groups’ status.
In conjunction with access to other community based services for child protection, health and education, this should result in better nourished and healthier children regularly attending school and assist to mitigating the effects of the severe economic downturn Zimbabwe has experienced over the past decade.
The test programme has been carefully designed using experiences from other parts of Africa, building on initiatives started during the recent years of economic decline in Zimbabwe. It is anticipated to scale up to a district in each of Zimbabwe's ten provinces in 2011 and, after fine tuning, cover 55,000 households nationwide by 2013.
This month of March sees the centenary celebrations of International Women's Day. And Mother's Day follows soon after on a date dependent upon your location. While gala events and flowers are all great expressions to make, it's hard to match the impact of good old fashioned cash in deserving female purses!