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Integrated Regional Information Network
Zimbabwe: No home to go to

November 11, 2009
HARARE, 11 November 2009 (PlusNews) - Tendai Javangwe (not his real name) is 16 years old but looks half his age; he was born HIV-positive and has been staying at a home run by Mashambanzou Care Trust, a community care and support organisation.

He had been living with his aunt since his parents died, but illness forced him to drop out of school and seek medical treatment at Mashambanzou - meaning "the dawn of a new day/life" in Shona - in Waterfalls, a residential area southwest of the capital, Harare.

When Javangwe was admitted the staff were shocked that his relatives had allowed his condition to deteriorate to such an extent. "He was thin and seriously ill. His relatives ... just kept him at home without realizing he needed help," Chipo Munyorovi, the sister in charge of Mashambanzou, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Javangwe is now well enough to go home but officials have classified him as a child in need of state protection after the neglect he was subjected to at home, and have said he should be placed in an orphanage or home, which has magnified his problems.

Zimbabwe has almost a million orphans, but the country's political and economic meltdown means the extended family is often too poor to cope with additional children.

High levels of stigma and discrimination prevent many HIV-positive children from being adopted or being adequately cared for by relatives, so caregivers find it hard to place those who have been abandoned in homes or orphanages.

A recent report by a local child rights organization, Streets Ahead, said at least 52 percent of children living and working on the streets of Harare and its satellite towns had lost one or both parents to AIDS-related illnesses. Most did not live on the streets permanently, but came occasionally to supplement meagre family incomes, begging to raise money for school fees and food.

"Individuals don't want to adopt them into their families, they want healthy children. Even the established orphanages tell us they have no space for the children ... This is why these children end up stuck with us," said Munyorovi.

But Mashambanzou's finances were stretched and the staff struggled to cope with the large numbers of children, who often stayed for a long period of time because they had nowhere else to go.

Paurina Mpariwa-Gwanyanya, Zimbabwe's Minister of Labour and Social welfare, attributed these problems to the collapse of social services after years of neglect and underfunding by the previous administration, and told a recent media workshop that the unity government was working hard to restore social services to protect orphans and vulnerable children.

New government estimates put the number of HIV-positive children in Zimbabwe at more than 105,000, of which only about 13,000 were on treatment. Javangwe may be one of the few lucky ones on antiretroviral drugs, but without a stable home he may not get the support he needs to make his treatment work.