MEMORY Dauka (12) is clad in a grey top and white skirt and on her back she carries her young sister after many hours of washing people’s cars in Harare’s central business district.
Despite the difficulties associated with entering the city centre every morning owing to Covid-19 restrictions, she never gives up.
The orphaned young girl, from Epworth near Harare, has become the bread winner in her family. She cannot afford a pair of shoes, so moves around barefoot.
Her plight typifies that of millions of Zimbabweans who are trying to eke out a living as the economy wobbles. According to the World Bank, nearly half of all Zimbabweans are wallowing in extreme poverty.
“I came here in town at 9am to wash people’s cars in the streets so that l get money for food and school fees. I stay with my grandmother. She is now 90, suffering from hypertension and, because of her age, she can no longer work.
“I’m the one who is now taking care of her and my young sister. I earn ZW$10 for each car l wash, sometimes l don’t earn anything. It’s very hard for me to get enough money to buy food or even to pay for school. Sometimes we spend days without eating and during school days the situation becomes worse because l have to balance the school work and work for the family for us to survive,’’ Dauka told The NewsHawks.
Sociologists often remark that children who spend too much time in the streets are at risk of losing a sense of childhood that can never be regained.
They miss out on education, playtime and other childhood activities, and this has far-reaching effects on their development.
Samuel Chamunorwa (10) stays with his grandmother who is blind. He washes cars in the streets to fend for her.
“My mother died when l was six and l don’t know where my father is. I stay with my grandmother in Epworth so l came here in town looking for help from people. Whilst she is looking for help from people, l wash cars in the streets so that we get food. I am no longer going to school, we don’t have money for school fees. The money l get from washing cars is for buying food. On normal days l earn ZW$400 per day, which is not enough to buy food and to cater for transport to come here in town and go back home,’’ Chamunorwa said.
The legal working age in Zimbabwe is 16, but children as young as 10 and 12 years old are seen selling goods on the streets of Harare and cleaning cars for survival.
Faith Maigwei (9) looks after her mother who has been suffering from a heart ailment for several years. She is now the family’s breadwinner at a tender age.
“My mother is no longer able to work due to heart problems. I am the one who came here to wash cars in the streets so that l get money to buy food and pay my school fees.
“During this lockdown some children are learning online and I’ve been left behind, but I cannot learn online due to economic hardships. I cannot buy a cellphone or a laptop and also money to buy bundles. The major objective is to source food with the little money l get,’’ Maigwei told The NewsHawks.
These children are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
They also narrated frightening encounters with older street children who come threatening them, sometimes snatching away the money they would have earned from washing cars.
Shantel Murwira (11), an orphan, looks after her two young sisters who also spend hours in town. She washes cars in the streets to earn a living.
‘‘Every day l come to wash cars and also look for help from people in the streets so that l get money to take care of my two young sisters. They are still young so I am the one who is looking after them, the other one is five and the last one is eight. We stay in Epworth. My parents died, and I am now the breadwinner of my young sisters. We are not going to school due to economic hardships. l get ZW$500 per day which is not enough for me to look after my young sisters,’’ Murwira said.
In a normal society, young boys and girls would not be scrounging in the streets for survival, but these are not normal times. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy was far from normal.
Even those children whose parents are somehow managing to pay school fees are stranded during the lockdown. Online learning is impossible for them.
They need gadgets, electricity, internet connectivity and money for data. This is widening inequality, with education now a preserve of the well off.
Tadiwa Tapfuma (12) said she is also struggling to attend online lessons and spends most of her time in the streets washing cars to earn a living.
‘‘My parents are not working, they cannot afford the online education, and there us no money for learning materials. The pandemic which forced learners to stay at home for long. It has worsened the crisis. I’m now coming here to town to wash cars. If l stay at home, the situation remains the same, as l may not get money,’’ Tapfuma told The NewsHawks.
Education experts are yet to fully unpack the long-term impact of prolonged lockdowns and too much idle time on children. However, teen pregnancy is on the rise and thousands of girls under 18 are being married off.
According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerable Assessment Committee Rural Livelihoods Assessment Report 2021, children aged between six to 13 are at risk. Those between four to six years were out of school mainly they are considered too young and aged 14 to 17 years were out of school due to pregnancy.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced learners to stay at home for long periods, has worsened the crisis as learners engaged in sexual activity, leading to teen pregnancy and early marriage.
Children are not being adequately protected from child labour and the risks they face, including exploitation and abuse.
The phenomenon of child vendors has been topical for some time but there is no solution in sight.
The Covid-19 pandemic and worsening economic hardships have had devastating consequences for children.
Young people are vulnerable to abuse, poor nutrition and exploitation.