By Rutendo Chirume
There has been a sharp increase in the number of child vendors across Zimbabwe as the country’s economy titters on the brink of collapse, consequently pushing underage children out of school, forcing them to join thousands of vendors scattered across the country.
Findings by the SOS Children’s Villages International show that an estimated 1.6 million Zimbabwean children live in extreme poverty, without access to the most basic resources such as food, decent housing, safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.
Statistics from Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) April Policy Digest said approximately 20 children join the streets everyday as beggars and vendors while less than 10percent of Zimbabwean children between 6-24 months of age consume a minimally acceptable diet.
“UNICEF 2021 Zimbabwe Annual Report propounded that Zimbabwe has weak child protection systems that have failed to ensure the safety and well-being of children. UNICEF reported that, ‘4.8 million Zimbabwean children live in poverty and 1.6 million children live in extreme poverty’. The most prevalent issues for impoverished children in Zimbabwe include malnutrition, education, sanitation and access to potable water. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that less than 10percent of Zimbabwean children between 6-24 months of age consume a minimally acceptable diet. The figure further projects poverty in the lives of Children,” wrote ZIMCODD.
The Coalition against Child Labor in Zimbabwe last year placed the number of child vendors across the country at 112,000 which shows that Zimbabwe’s struggling economy is responsible for rising numbers of child vendors
Narrating how she became a vendor, a minor barely 11 years old who moves from office to office and every corner in Masvingo city center with a tray of bananas said she is forced to do vending in order to supplement income at home.“I no longer go to school because my mother failed to pay my fees. We used to stay in Rujeko, but now we have no fixed aboard because we were also chased out when my mother failed to pay the rentals. In the morning my mother and I leave home, a shack that we built on our own, to come to town and sell these bananas because that is where we find some of the money needed to buy food.
“Sometimes when it is too cold in the morning, mother instructs me to stay behind and follow later so that I do not get flue. We do not walk together in town, my mother goes in her direction and we meet home after work which has been our routine since last year. I hope things will get better and we will have a place to stay and I can go back to school just like other children. I no longer cry or complain like I used to do because my mother told me that we will die of hunger if I do not do it,” she said.
Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation Director Samuel Wadzai said there was a huge surge in numbers of children into child vending and the numbers became worse after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“According to a survey that we conducted, there was a surge in children turning into vending and the situation became worse after Covid-19 because in most cases parents took their children to streets so that they can help them raise income to survive. It’s happening across the country but situation is dire in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo and Gweru. We have seen a sharp rise and to us this amounts to child labour since these children are expected to be at school.
“If you look at the age ranges of these children, you would realize that they should be at school, learning. It’s a sad situation and as an organization we are trying to come in and see how we can help these parents and guardians so that they can work on their own without recruiting their children. In terms of statistics, on average you would find more than 200 000 children daily on the streets which is very sad because it’s a huge number and those children should be at school,” said Wadzai.
The rise of child vendors and child labor itself is happening at a time the country is a signatory to a number of conventions that protects children from abuse including the UN Convention on the Rights of Children.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines child labor as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling and that too include child vending.
According to the Child Resource Institute Zimbabwe, there are 188,356 child vendors operating in towns, cities and rural areas in Zimbabwe who are according to the constitution are being deprived of their rights to access quality education, shelter, health services, social security and social care.
A source at Masvingo Provincial Social Welfare Office (who preferred anonymity) said the province has tried to get children off the streets by taking them to their homes and orphanages“Statistics are usually found at the national office but issues of child vending are very sensitive that is why we always try our best to remove as much children as we can on the streets. It is difficult to trace those children who will be coming from home to sell because their parents are the ones who send them to do that and it is difficult to take them away from their parents because they would be telling you they are trying to sustain their income.
“But those who will be on the streets without anywhere to go, we take them to orphanages and for example last year, all the children who were on the streets and exposed to Covid-19, we removed them from the streets,” said the source.
Economic woes that have become prevalent in the country coupled with hyper-inflation and Covid-19 did not spare the struggling masses as more learners resorted to vending due to failure to go to school during the lockdowns.

Source : Tellzim

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