2. Children-parent relations

According to some writers, laws and regulations pertaining to protection and welfare of the child are important but the rights of the child are fundamentally sustained in the quality of the relationship between the child and the closest care givers in the household, be it nuclear or extended. The enhancement of that quality is therefore a primary rights issue (Jareg et al, 1992). The regrouping of Articles of the Convention under the heading ‘Children-parent relationships’ encompasses a broad range of concepts that deal with the relationship between children and the wider society, and could be said to relate to the definition of childhood. Articles 5, 7, 9, 10, 14, 16, 18, 27 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child are concerned with aspects of what we have called children-parent relationships. We have chosen this phrase to indicate what we consider to be two important components of children’s rights. The first is that rights should be directed towards real children and a variety of different experiences of childhood rather than to some unreal, imaginary unity ‘The Child’ or ‘The African Child’ or ‘Zimbabwean Child’. The second is that, whereas in society it is usually parents and adults overall who precede children in importance, in considerations of children’s rights it is children who come first.

The relationships we discuss in this Chapter include both children within a nuclear family setting living with biological parents, and those outside the family being looked after by extended family or in institutions. The children-parent relations group of Articles is closely linked to the dominant theme of childhood outlined in the previous chapter. The data required to monitor this group are not all dealt with in this Chapter, indeed some of those that would be necessary do not exist, but cover:

State respect for parental responsibility;
Non-separation from parents;
Right to leave state for reunion with parents;
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
Right to an adequate standard of living;
Registration of children at birth;
Interference with privacy;
Education for development (which is dealt with more in Chapter 6).

This Chapter will describe several aspects of the available data as far as children-parent relationships are concerned. It is important to note that when we refer to children-parent relationships we have to define what is meant by the term parent. According to Diana Auret, in Zimbabwe there is a culture of collective responsibility for children (Auret, 1995). As a result the term children-parent relationships does not always mean a child’s relationship with his or her biological parents, but may also encompasses children’s relationships with the following:

  • The extended family;
  • Adults looking after the children;
  • The state in cases where children are in state care or custody;
  • The community at large.



Traditional children-parent relationships

As discussed in Chapter 1, children in most African contexts, and certainly in traditional societies in Zimbabwe, do not belong exclusively to their parents. They have obligations to the wider society, which likewise has responsibility for their proper socialisation. The concept of ‘parent’ is wider than the man and woman who are biological parents and the idea of ‘family’ assumes an extended group of kin. All these factors make a crucial difference to Zimbabwean interpretations of both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Both instruments work on the basis of a core idea that states party can best secure the rights of children by supporting families in their roles of providing for and protecting their children. But underlying assumptions about family are different in the Convention, where a nuclear family is implied, and the Charter, which assumes extended families and a broader group of adults who take on parental responsibilities. To try to understand better what these differences mean, and to examine how they show up in the data on children and families in Zimbabwe, we first turned to anthropology.

Within social anthropology it is common to approach the analysis of marriage systems from the point of view of the rights a man or his kinsmen acquire over a woman through marriage. One set of rights are those held in the woman as a wife. These are the rights to her services both domestic and sexual. The other sets of rights are the rights in the woman as a mother and refer particularly to the ownership of her children (see for example, Bohannan in May, 1987: 36). Through marriage payments, a man and his kinsmen obtain access to rights in both women and children. Traditionally kinsmen helped a young man with these payments, which thus became a collective responsibility. Some commentators argue that because young men now make such payments individually this has provided opportunities for abusing both children and wives. The checks and balances through which community used to control male power no longer exist. According to Zimbabwean anthropologist Michael Bourdillon, in both urban and rural settings men, together with their wives and children, now work in isolation from their kin to such an extent that it is difficult for the extended family to intervene in household economics and politics (Bourdillon, 1994). In Chapter 4 we will examine the consequences of this for child abuse and neglect.

The general arrangement of society in the past was that children below the age of seven were normally to be found around their mothers, grandmothers and aunts. According to Gelfand ‘women have more significant responsibilities to children than men’, especially in the children’s early lives (Gelfand, 1987:31). Women basically nurture children from their early lives through to adulthood by which time they can participate as adult men or women in the affairs of the homestead and the community. Despite the fact that an age set structure existed for both males and females, in a society that was divided by gender, older women such as grandmothers and mothers were usually the avenue by which all children would make requests to their fathers.

After they had reached seven years of age boys would be found with their grandfathers and other males in the household. They would help in most of the activities of animal husbandry, starting with the smaller animals such as goats and kids. As they grew older they would look after calves within and around the homestead and eventually go out with the adult males, herding cattle and hunting. Meanwhile girls would be taught by their mothers, grandmothers and aunts all the necessary skills that pertain to good house-keeping. It is in these contexts that children’s participation in traditional society has to be understood (ibid:31).

In Zimbabwe a young person is viewed as a child until he/she participates in the social and economic roles enjoyed by adults, not according to the law. In the African sense, the definition of a child is a social construct and thus value laden. It is not calculated in terms of chronological age but by what role the child can or does play in society at any given stage. The definition of the child thus becomes situational.

In the traditional Zimbabwean context children would not be differentiated by age but by their social responsibilities. For example, Chigwedere argues that there were three stages of childhood in the Shona culture: early childhood, late childhood and adolescence. Early childhood is 0-6 years, late childhood 7-12 years and an adolescent is between 13-20 years. It is must be noted that these age categories are not absolute, as each age category dovetails into the others. Moreover, the graduation of a child from one age group into the next depends on his/her maturity and understanding of the socio-cultural values of the society he/she is living in. The rate of development is judged by the senior members of a community. The emphasis is not on physical growth nor age in years but rather on whether a particular child has developed expected maturity in terms of appreciation and understanding of norms and values. It is said that Shona children ‘lived life’ rather than theorizing it (Chigwedere, 1996:2).

These different childhood stages corresponded with certain expected socio-cultural responsibilities. For example, in early childhood a child was expected to:

  • Appreciate the value of respect of elders, in particular parents and grandparents;
  • Respect family, village, district and tribal unity;
  • Be diligent and industrious;
  • Live in peace with the land and its owners;
  • Be polite.

It is important to note that at this stage children were referred to as ‘children’ with no differentiation between boys and girls.

There are thematic linkages between this concept of childhood and Articles S and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as Article 19 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. At this stage children are being introduced to normative issues, much of which are about children-parent relationships, and children-community relationships, which allude to the creation of bonds between children and parents and to the duty of parents to care for and protect children. The introduction to normative values, what is right and what is wrong, around the age of seven years, fits with the Zimbabwean age of criminal responsibility .

In late childhood, a child was expected to:

  • Appreciate and understand the values respect for human life;
  • Respect those in authority;
  • Be polite;
  • Respect other people’s property;
  • Be diligent and industrious;
  • Live in peace with the land and the owners of the land;
  • Be courageous, especially boys; and for girls to begin to be womanly.

Adolescents (12-20 years) were introduced to:

  • Moral probity
  • Manliness and womanliness;
  • Marriage and success in marriage;
  • The importance of achieving perpetual life through the production of children.

It is also important to consider the relationship of children to the community in which they lived. In the past children would refer to any male adult as grandfather, father, or brother depending on the age of the person. The same applied to women who were called grandmother, mother, or sister, regardless of blood relationship. Children had the obligation to respect anyone older than them as well as respect and help or teach those who were younger than them. Anyone who was older had the duty to bring up the young within the accepted value systems of the community and thus was supposed to teach and even punish children who did not respect their elders. Thus children were not under the care of their immediate family alone.

There is no doubt that these children-parent relationships have changed and are changing. One recent debate in the international scene on changing family forms was triggered by the United Nations Year of the Family, during which there was the question of whether we can talk of ‘the family’ or ‘families’. We will not go into this debate, but refer to it in order to show that everywhere in the world people are experiencing changes in family form. However, as is often the case, change is received with scepticism and used as the scapegoat for all kinds of evils that are perceived as consequences. We thus hear of loss of community, of the emergence of female-headed households, phrases such as family instability and family break-down. It is no doubt that changes in family form are real, but what is often intriguing is the way new family forms are received. There is often a rhetoric of the old as the norm and the good, the standard against which the new is judged. This tendency is very clear, even where it is only implicit, in the data we collected on children-parent relationships.

Analysis of the findings on child parent relationship entails examination of the data on the role of parents, the role of communities, and the role of the state in child welfare.



The role of parents in child welfare

The investments of parents in child welfare determine the status of children. These investments are not just economic, as the Convention and Charter both recognise, they also encompass care, love and attention, protection, socialisation and guidance. According to Michael Bourdillon, in Zimbabwe now both common law and customary practices recognise the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents and guardians to provide parental guidance to children. In the past children were always protected and guided within the family and the community at large. However with the disintegration of traditional family forms, and increasing emphasis on the nuclear family, the protection of children and parental guidance like most rights and duties exercised within a family have also disintegrated (Bourdillon, 1991).

Changes in family form and the subsequent vulnerability of children in Zimbabwe are also highlighted in the work of Diana Auret. She notes that, in the traditional extended family, relatives were supposed to control parents should they abuse their parental authority by abusing and even neglecting their children. She further notes that, in urban environments especially, mechanisms for protecting children without parents tend to take the form of institutions, foster care, and adoption rather than the customary forms of care within the extended family (Auret, 1995).

Auret argues that parental guidance within the family is influenced by changes in family form. There seems to be a relationship between under-resourced or poor urban nuclear family forms and relative indepence for children. This is often associated with parents losing control over their children. It is argued that the socio-economic, cultural fibres that bind traditional families give way. This directly leads young persons to indulge in activities that are in conflict with the law. However the degree to which this takes place is dependent on factors such as socio-economic class and whether families live in communal areas, urban areas, mining communities, or commercial farming communities (Auret, op cit).

The housing environment of children can be interpreted as providing indirect indicators of child welfare. Housing should be conducive to the development of the child in terms of space and good sanitation. According to Auret, structure and quality of the housing environment in low income groups has an effect on child-parent relationships. In low income urban areas the housing environment serves as a recruitment factor for street children and contributes to sexual abuse, as many o£ these families have only one room as their entire living space. Incidences of crimes against children or crimes by children are indicators related to the housing environment. In cases where the children have no space in the home they are forced out of the home to find other places to sleep at night and that weakens children-parent relationships. Therefore data about housing could form a indirect indicator related to other indicators of the welfare of children.

No comparable data exist in terms of children-parent relationships in high and medium income groups, so that Auret’s conclusions cannot be validated. Yet, despite having adequate housing there is anecdotal evidence that problems in the children-parent relationships are present as both parents may be at work and do not have time to spend with their children, leading to parents losing control over their children at times. This weakens the children-parent relationship, much as it is weakened in low income groups where children are forced out of their home as a result of inadequate housing facilities.

According to a UNICEF and NORAD Report, Inside our mining world (1996), most housing in the areas devoted to small scale mines and gold panning is inadequate. Frequently a whole family has to live in one room. As a result more or less the same kind of problems encountered by low income urban area families in terms of child parent relationships are experienced by these communities, which lack social services and structures for dealing with family problems. The mining study further states that, in large scale and medium scale mining communities, the degree of family breakdown is not great. This is because families have access to social services and to structures for dealing with community and family problems. The presence of social services is thus also an indirect indicator of children’s rights and welfare.

There are several specific issues that are directly implicated in the relationships between children and parents, for which data are available and which provide possibilities for monitoring children’s rights.


Registration of Births

Registration at birth provides children with identity and nationality. It is the first step towards full citizenship for, without registration, children are likely to be ineligible for state provision of health services, education and, in adult life the right to employment in the formal sector and the right to vote.

Registration of births is an issue of concern in Zimbabwe at the moment. According to the Ministry of Health’s report on Primary Health of 1988, less than one fifth of all births in rural areas had been registered. In the cities about half the total number of births had been registered, the difference between rural and urban areas in this respect probably being due to the relatively shorter distances to the registering centres in towns. In late 1996 there was a massive mobile registration exercise covering the whole country. However, we have yet to hear if this exercise was successful, although it is said that the Ministry of Home Affairs has commissioned an evaluation of the exercise following complaints about the manner in which it was handled.

Registration of birth should be a vital event just after the birth of any child. However, many social pressures can delay or lead to the non-registration of a child’s birth. Chief among these is the difficulty some mothers have in proving the child’s paternity to the registering officer. Proof of paternity seems to be the key to registering a child’s birth. The issue of proving paternity seems to re-emphasise the effects of a patriarchal society, particularly if there is fear of registering a child born to a non-Zimbabwean man as a Zimbabwean citizen, although this is not forbidden by law.

One way round the problem would be to register children immediately they are born within a hospital or clinic, but this would leave out children born at home.

One of the problems frequently mentioned by children’s homes is the absence of birth certificates for children in care, which leads to problems in registering for examinations. The procedures for Probation Officers to obtain birth certificates are time consuming and a more efficient method is urgently needed, as well as some leniency on the part of schools.


Custody and maintenance of children

Issues of custody and maintenance of children form very important indicators of the quality of the child parent relationship, which to a great extent determine the status of children. Within this framework fall issues such as guardianship and custody of children; divorce and separation of parents. The legislation pertaining to the custody and maintenance of children forms the basis of understanding the qualities of children-parent relationships, particularly in the context of a family where there is both a mother and a father. The Primary Courts Act lays down that, ‘In any case relating to the custody of the children the interests of the children concerned shall be the paramount consideration, irrespective of which law or principle applied’ (Section 3 Article 4).

Nevertheless, it is important to understand fully the meaning of the terms guardianship and custody. According to May, ‘guardianship’ means the capacity of a person to administer the property and assets of a minor, to look after his {or her] financial affairs, and to conclude contacts on his [or her] behalf or assist him with contracts. The guardian of the minor is competent to consent to the minors marriage, and to nominate a testamentary guardian. On the other hand ‘custody’ means the capacity of a person to have actual physical possession of a minor, to live with him [or her], to take care of him [or her] and to assist him in daily life (May, 1987). During the course of a marriage the father has guardianship of the minor children of the marriage, and the mother and the father have Joint custody and control of the children. If divorce takes place, the court must decide both issues of custody and guardianship. Usually the father retains guardianship of the children, unless he is judged unsuitable, when sole guardianship can be awarded to the mother, if it is in the best interests of the child.

According to May, whichever parent has custody after divorce, the other parent still normally retains the right to reasonable access to the children. During marriage both parents have the duty to support the children and each parent must contribute in proportion to his means. The responsibilities of parents to support their children are not brought to an end by divorce, and both parents remain obliged to take care of the child in the same way (May, op cit).

The Guardianship of Minors Act allows for a parent or any other person to apply through the court for the sole guardianship and custody of a minor where the parents are separated or divorced. However there is provision for the other party to contest the sole guardianship and the courts always request a Social Welfare Officer’s report to insure the best interests of the child are catered for.

However there are situations in which legislation such as the Guardianship of Minors Act is not considered where divorce takes place. For instance, May points out that only some of the issues concerning children ever get to the courts. Many ‘divorces’ are arranged by the families involved and matters are dealt with according to tradition. Many wives are simply deserted and the children taken into the husband’s family. In a polygamous system there is nothing to prevent the husband remarrying or marrying a second wife, unless a woman goes to the community court (a right many women do not know about). Children will be taken into the husband’s family, which their mother will accept as ‘natural’. In some cases men have abandoned families, and some women may have reasons for not wanting their children, just as there are cases where children have run away from their fathers and returned to their mothers.

If fully examined, data on divorce cases might lead us to important children’s rights indicators. Although there were no data immediately available relating to the number of parents who divorced after having children, we fund that there is potential for getting this kind of information. Disaggregation of the divorce cases in terms of the numbers of children affected, their ages, gender, socio-economic status and so forth might develop the basis for children’ s rights indicators. More importantly, perhaps, monitoring the processes and outcomes of divorce would provide information about the extent to which the decisions made were in the best interests of the child (Article 3), took a child’s opinion into account (Article 12) and enabled children to keep in touch with both parents (Article 9).


Children’s privacy

In Zimbabwe the right to privacy is provided for in Section 17 of the Constitution as well as the common law. In practice, however, the right to privacy for children is little respected by parents, guardians and school authorities particularly in areas such as interfering with correspondence. Most mothers would feel that they were not fulfilling their parental obligations if they did not open, read and censor their daughters’ letters. The extent to which children should be allowed to keep secrets from their parents is controversial especially in the context of child abuse in Zimbabwe Privacy has different meanings and values in African societies and the right to privacy should therefore be balanced with the interests of the family and society.



The role of the community in child welfare

As discussed earlier in this chapter, community care was traditionally as important as family care and formed the context in which the reciprocal obligations of parenthood and childhood were exercised and regulated. The community and extended family also provided for children whose biological parents could not or would not take care of them. Traditionally orphans in Zimbabwe were relatively easily adopted by other family members, due to the kinship systems that provided for the welfare of their members (SANASO, 1994).

According to one projection of the number of orphans in Zimbabwe there were approximately 67,000 orphaned children in 1992 in Zimbabwe (Powell et al, 1994). It is difficult to count orphans because there is no clear distinction made between children who have lost both their parents, who have lost their fathers only, or who have lost contact with their families. In the current situation of socio-economic crisis and structural adjustment, which Zimbabwe, like most other African countries is undergoing, there is a general feeling that communities and extended families cannot cope with orphaned children. The problem is exacerbated by the AIDS pandemic, as we will discuss below.

In order to strengthen traditional community child care mechanisms, the Department of Social Welfare has been involved in a pilot project of ‘ community based’ orphan care in Masvingo Province. The project has established a provincial committee with representatives from different ministries, churches and NGOs, headed by the Provincial Social Welfare Officer. Phase one of the project started with an orphan enumeration study and also examined sustainable and effective ways to support communities in the care of orphans. At the same time, the Department of Social Welfare was also supporting a study into the social effects of morbidity from AIDS with special reference to orphans and their care, management and treatment.

The study was established to discover why there has been a sudden urge in the number of children in need, rendering the Department of Social Welfare programme ineffective. The main findings of the study confirmed that, while the problem of orphans is growing, communities through the extended family still hold the key to coping with the problem. The system is traditionally accepted in Zimbabwe and, while it is necessary to strengthen the communities with resources needed, the costs will be significantly lower than those needed for institutional care.

Nevertheless there may be risks involved in being complacent about the ability of the extended family to cope with the current numbers of orphans that are the result of the AIDS pandemic. By mid 1993, there were about 800,000 people in Zimbabwe infected by theHIV virus and more than 23,000 reported cases of AIDS, which is now the number one cause of death among adults in the two major cities, Harare and Bulawayo. The Government has estimated that as many 600,000 HIV negative children will lose one or both parents by the year 2000 (Powell et al, 1994). The category of especially vulnerable children that gives the greatest cause of concern is the growing number of children orphaned by their parents’ deaths from AIDS. The preferable strategy being put in place by government is that of community based care. One reason for this is that, according to the Report of the Joint Monitoring and Support of Orphans by Churches ( 1995) studies have shown that children with AIDS live longer in foster homes than in institutions and that for those children who are orphaned and do not have AIDS, fostering is also a much better solution than institutionalisation.

Charged with protecting children in all aspects of their lives, the Department of Social Welfare is responsible for orphans of AIDS. The Department of Social Welfare contributes to strengthening the affected family unit’s food resources by awarding financial and material assistance through public assistance, food money and drought relief, to assist widows or widowers and aged grandparents once a breadwinner has died.



The role of the state in child welfare

State assistance to parents in their child care responsibilities

An important core principle of both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is that the most appropriate way for states to secure the rights of children is supporting parents to provide for and protect the children in their care. If parents cannot provide a conducive environment for the development of children then the state should intervene to assist in the provision of the necessary resources that will promote attainment of education as well as physical social cultural development. The state assists parents who have difficulties in paying school fees and the health user fees through the Social Development Fund. Most parents do not seem to be aware of this facility and children continue to suffer because of lack of awareness of the presence of this support. At the same time, some of the administrative procedures make it inaccessible to the ordinary person. Some data have revealed that state assistance to parents has not been inadequate with respect to provision of housing for families particularly among the low income groups (Powell et al, 1994). Information in this area, particularly if disaggregated by geographical distribution, and socio-economic group, and correlated to other indicators, such as health and educational achievement, would be basic to developing a monitoring system for children’s rights.


Institutional care

Institutional care is normally regarded as the last resort in the care of children. The Department of Social Welfare operates different types of residential institution, the majority of which are concerned with children who have violated the law:

  • Training institutions: Correctional facilities for adolescents who have committed offences and are viewed as hardened delinquents. These adolescents are mostly committed for periods of up to three years, although they may be released on licence to parental custody earlier if behaviour is good. They attend school on a vocational training basis.
  • Probation hostels: are open facilities for children in need of care with delinquent tendencies. Some children attend school in the neighbourhood, but are locked in at night.
  • Remand homes: cell blocked facilities for children who are on remand or require a place of safety under orders pending investigation by a probation officer or court appearances. Children can also be placed in other homes on places of safety orders but, as most homes are full, the Remand home is frequently a starting point for children before committal by the court to specific facility. Children in remand do not attend school and are locked up for parts of the day and all night. Street children caught in round-up exercises are usually admitted in groups to remand homes.
  • Children’s Homes.

The Department’s remand and children’s homes are chronically overcrowded, but not grossly so. The allocation by the state to the institutions is based on an allocation to each child of ZIM$ 150,00 each month. In cases of place of safety orders, where children are in for a short stay only, the government allocates $5,00 a day for each child. In cases where children are in foster care the same allocation applies for each child. However, when a child is fostered within the extended family, the relatives are given only half the allocation ($75).

The geographical provision of institutions is uneven. Harare central has the most institutions followed by Matebeleland and Manicaland. To make use of this information for children’s rights monitoring, it would be important to see whether there is equitable distribution of these institutions with respect to need and why there are fewer institutions in some of the provinces. From information available, for example, the provinces of Midlands has only one institution (a children’s home) with a capacity of 60 with only 42 children in residence when data were recorded, even though the total population in the cachement area is large. By comparison, the three institutions available in Mashonaland East (all orphanages or children’s homes) have a total capacity of 167, which was oversubscribed by 64 according the data provided to us by the Department Social Welfare Officer.


Criteria used to determine which children could be placed in state care

It is important to examine the criteria used to determine children in need of institutional care because this reveals much about the expectations and values surrounding childhood and families. According to the Child Protection and Adoption Act a child who is in need of state care is one:

  • Who is destitute or has been abandoned;
  • Whose parents are dead or cannot be traced and who has no legal guardian;
  • Whose parents or guardian do not exercise control or are unfit to exercise control;
  • Who is in the custody of a person convicted of committing upon him [sic] offences such as abduction,
  • Who cannot be controlled by parent/ guardian;
  • Who is a habitual truant from school;
  • Who is living in circumstances likely to cause his sedition, corruption, or prostitution,
  • Who begs or engages in street trading,
  • Who is being maintained in circumstances detrimental to his welfare;
  • Who is found in possession of drugs;
  • Who suffers mental and physical disability which requires treatment that his parents/ guardian are unable to provide.

The criteria used to determine children in need of care speak of the idea that children should be controlled and/or protected. Moreover, children are seen as recipients of welfare rather than participants in it.

Although institutionalization of children is considered by the state to be the last option after the family and community have failed, very often children are institutionalised just because it is the easiest option. In the data on institutionalization of children we find several possible indicators of child welfare, which are detailed below.


Characteristics of children in statutory care

Data are available on the number of children in statutory care and these are dissagreggated in terms of those on remand and those on place of safety order. Information is available according to age (from 0 to 18 years) and gender. It is notable that males are slightly over represented due to the large number of boys in remand facilities and over half the children are under the age of 12 years. The greatest proportion of children taken into care is between 0 and 3 years old. The numbers decrease between 3 and 6 years of age and then increase once again between 6 and 12 years of age. On the whole, almost half the children were under the age of 6 years when found to be in need of care. Three-quarters of the total sample were under the age of 12. Those aged 18 years and above were rounded up as street children and should not be in juvenile care facilities (Powell et al, 1994).

However there seems to be no periodic collection of data which means that monitoring over time is not possible at the moment. It appears as if the statistics provided were collected as a ‘one-off exercise since there is no comparison in terms of how the figures differed from previous years. Consequently there is no indication that there has been any monitoring of the children in statutory care even on an annual basis. Nevertheless, the age and sex of children in statutory care could be a starting point in developing a monitoring system for children’s rights and welfare, in and out of statutory care, even though other characteristics, such as place of birth, religion and ethnicity might be just as important.


Orphan Status

Figures available for orphans in statutory care show that three quarters of these children do in fact have relatives. As stated above, there is a vague definition of orphan status extending from children with one parent to those who do not have either parents or any other relatives. It might appear that only children who do not have parent or relatives should be in statutory care, because there is no one to look after them. In situations where one parent is alive or there are other relatives present there is potential for the care of the orphans within a family setting, either with the remaining parent or with the relations. Perhaps a better alternative would be fostering children within their extended families with financial assistance as in the community based care approach which has currently being piloted in Masvingo by the State. On the other hand assisting widows or widowers financially when they can not take care of their children would also be a better alternative rather than placing them in statutory care.


Referral to and stay in care

Among referral agencies the children’s relatives constitute the largest percentage (37%), followed by police and other authorities (28%), and hospitals or clinic 15%). Detailed information about routes into care and reasons why children are in care is available, but this is not cross-referenced to other information. It would also be interesting to compare the list of criteria for placing children in care with the information about routes and reasons why children are in care.

The majority of children stay in institutions from two to five years, which is in line with Government child welfare policy, which states that there should be a periodic review of placement by the courts after three years. Nevertheless, there appears to be a trend towards longer-term placements. Two thirds of children currently in care have been there for two or more years and almost a third for five years or more. A small proportion of children spend their entire childhood in a children’s home. There have been a number of well-documented complaints that court orders placing children into care lapse, despite reminders by homes and foster families. This reveals that there has not been a follow-up by the probation officer and no renewal can be made unless a current report on the situation of the child has been submitted. It was found that 68% of cases were overdue by three months. The longest cases were mostly in foster care, where foster parents were not aware of their rights (Powell et al, 1994).

Government institutions show that around 60% of children in care come from families of four or more children. In addition it is clear that a considerable proportion of children in state care have siblings in the same home or with the same foster family.


Child welfare staffing

The Department of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare is the key agency for implementing child welfare policy. The Department’s Social Welfare Officers act as probation officers appointed in terms of section 47 of the Child Protection and Adoption Act to protect children and represent their interests as officers of the high court. The Department is severely understaffed for the volume of work it is expected to carry out, and this influences the quality of social work services provided and the morale of staff. The number of social workers to population in each province is very low, in one case one social worker caters for 124,103 people. These figures make it unrealistic for any effective social services to be provided. It is also important to note that these figures do not place any emphasis on the child population as the ratios of social workers are calculated on the basis of the whole population and not specifically on the child population. The data are not children-centred.


Government provision for child welfare

The activities of government in the area of child welfare can be used as to develop indicators of children’s rights in terms of programmes policies and expenditures for the benefit of children. There has been no exercise in Zimbabwe similar to the South African Children’s Budget, which shows the proportion of the entire state budget that is allocated to children from all government sectors. The only way of checking on fiscal provision for child welfare is by looking at the proportion of the social welfare budget that is allocated to children and their families. Direct public assistance is a very small proportion of the Social Welfare budget, and although this rose in amount by 22% between 1989/90 and 1994/5 this does not compare favourably with the rise of 36% in the overall allocation to social welfare. Given the fact that public assistance during this period was overwhelmingly dedicated to drought relief, it is difficult to tease out the government’s commitment to provision for the poorest families and the children whose rights they are trying to protect and provide for. Over the same period the percentage of the total vote allocated to the Ministry of Education was between 18% and 21. 5%, Ministry of Health between 6.47% and 7.5 8%, and Ministry of Housing, between 6.46% and 7.53%. By comparison, the Ministry of Defence was awarded 12.08% to 16.29% of the national budget.

Despite the comparatively small proportion of between 0.50 % and 1.48% of the national budget allocated to the Ministry of Social Welfare over the same five years, Government commitment to the welfare of the people is shown in the fact that Social Welfare’s share increased at a far greater rate year-on-year than either the National Budget itself or any of the Ministries above. The problem appears to be that the baseline figure available for public expenditure on social welfare is simply insufficient for the functions social welfare is expected to perform.

In order to monitor government provision for child welfare, and indeed government provision for children in general, it would be necessary to use a more analytical approach to fiscal spending, examining the proportions of funds (and their impacts) spent on citizens under the age of 18 years. Thus, for example, the education budget would need to be broken down into allocations for pre-school, primary school and secondary school provision as well as for educational provision for children with disabilities, including learning difficulties, disaggregated according to the provision for each corresponding age grouping, according to gender, and at various sub-national levels. Similar analysis for sectorial indicators for mother-and-child health would not only look at the commonly-used health and immunization programmes but also at other aspects, for example provision of pediatric facilities and staff (See Chapter 6). It is often also interesting to compare the proportions spent on this age group with allocations to the elderly (over 65 years of age).




Constructions of childhood and children

The data on children-parent relations show that children are implicitly viewed as:

In need of parental guidance;
Subject to parental authority;
Objects of concern;
‘Seen and not heard’;
In need of protection.

Although children have a right to protection there is a tendency to take away their right to participation. The emphasis is on adults and what is regarded as the ‘best interests’ of a child or group of children is decided by adults. To a large extent, programmes that aim to assist children in need of care embarked on by the State place emphasis on adults in the communities with little involvement of the children themselves. For example, the NPA sought a family and community based approach to protecting and rehabilitating children in difficult circumstances, with minimal participation of children.

Emphasis has also been placed on the adults in new approaches to community based monitoring systems, such as training members of the community to undertake responsibility for regular visits to homes caring for orphaned and abused children. Community based monitoring systems leading to an improvement in the situation of children place the emphasis on adults acting in the best interests of the child. Consequently children have been considered to be beneficiaries of child welfare policy rather than participants in their own welfare.


Data on children

We recommend that the data should be more children-centred. Most studies indicate that children are not the unit of observation and calculation in the data. The constructs of childhood in studies and data put a great deal of emphasis on the adults within society. For example the data on budgetary allocation and the ratio of social workers to population by province are not child centred, paying attention to the whole population without any attention to children. We ask ourselves questions such as, ‘How much of the budget is allocated to child welfare?’ or ‘What is the ratio of social workers to the population of children?’


Further research

The area of child parent relationships is one that needs further research because much existing data do not emphasise these kinds of relationships particularly within a family setting. We suggest that further research should be embarked on in the following areas of children-parent relationships:

Children-parent relationships in:

Rural areas;
High and medium income urban areas;
Farming communities, especially agribusiness;
Mining communities;

How the state caters for the recreational needs of children in various sectors;

Analysis of the ‘children’s budget’.

Nevertheless, it is evident from the data we collected that there is considerable potential for monitoring children’s rights and welfare in Zimbabwe as far as children-parent relationships are concerned. The present indicators of childhood can be developed to form children’s rights indicators if various disaggregations were developed and data were recalculated to make them more children-centred, so that they could monitor the extent to which the provisions of the Convention and the African Charter are being achieved with respect to children-parent relations.



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