Source: Welfare figures surge: UNICEF | The Herald September 28, 2016
Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
The number of children requiring welfare has increased from 11 000 last year to an estimated 20 000 during the first seven months of this year, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef). This follows the El Nino-induced drought that has affected the Southern African region.
Unicef has mobilised $3,1 million for Zimbabwe to promote the well-being of vulnerable children against a current funding appeal of $21,8 million. The welfare assistance includes children reporting health problems, requiring educational and/or school assistance, or children being in need of emotional and social support.
The 2015/16 El Nino-induced drought, which has affected crops and livestock, has also resulted in the increase in stress among children. Information from the Unicef-supported Child Protection Fund, which tracks down the welfare and protection needs among poor and vulnerable children indicates a sharp rise in children needing welfare assistance in 2016 compared to 2015.
An estimated 20 000 children required welfare assistance between January and July 2016, compared to 11 000 in the whole of 2015. Slightly more than 2 000 children reported health problems in the first six months of 2016 compared to 400 in the whole of 2015.
“This number includes children who have defaulted on their anti-retroviral therapy for HIV due to an inability to take medication due to hunger. About 6 000 children needed emotional and social support in the first six months of 2016, compared to 8 000 in the whole of 2015. The upsurge started in October 2015 with the onset of the drought and indicates an increase in drought-related psychosocial stress,” said Unicef.
The organisation said the greatest rise was in the education category, where 12 000 children reported needing school-related assistance in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2 000 in the whole of 2015.
Unicef deputy representative in Zimbabwe Dr Jane Muita said with the failure of crops, families faced the grim choice of spending their little money either on food or buying books and paying school fees.
“They will always choose food. But these are hard choices no family should have to make and we worry about the long-term developmental effects the drought will have on affected children. Many of the 20 000 children owe schools thousands of US dollars in unpaid fees.
“Although official Government policy is not to chase the children away, some children have dropped out of school entirely, or have had their school reports withheld. While this upsurge in numbers can be partially attributed to a better identification and reporting system, the ongoing drought has left increasing numbers of children in desperate need of help,” she said.
Unicef’s non-governmental organisation partners are also reporting an increase in young girls dropping out of school to engage in commercial sex work, with teenage boys engaging in illegal mining.