On a typical Monday morning in Harare and other towns in Zimbabwe, the misery of those living with disabilities is evident on road pavements and most street corners where they beg for alms. As people hurry up and down the street, going about their daily tasks, very few notice a blind woman’s escort, begging besides her, clad in her old tattered school uniform and helping her mother beg for coins is 13 year old Ndakaitei Dube (not her real name).
As if motivated by a silent grace, Ndakaitei is determined to plead her mother’s case and on a good day the pair makes $4.
On the same stretch of pavement is 10 year old Inkosizile Shoko (not real name) who sits with his blind and crippled father, begging too.
Curiously, both parents’ physical challenges cannot interpret the paralinguistic signs exhibited by passers by to their sighted children. Cyclists and pedestrians have a quick choice to make as the beggars appear, toss a coin, proffer a polite apology for not being able to help or out rightly brush them off.
“I am the first born child in a family of three. My mother is disabled. I am a Form One student at Glenview High. I get into town in the afternoon after school to help my mother beg for money” said a brow-beaten Ndakaitei.
Her mother, 43 year old Shamiso Dube, feels cheated by nature. She narrates the difficulties her family goes through to be able to put food on the table .
“l feel cheated by the biology of nature (sic). I feel pity for my child (Ndakaitei) who helps me to beg in the streets while other children her age are in school or playing. The burden is heavy (crying). I wish the father of my children was here things would have been better, but he ran away from us. We come every afternoon to town to beg so that Ndakaitei and her siblings have something to eat, said Shamiso.
While other children of Ndakaitei and Inkosizile’s ages are up and about in their neighbourhood’s playgrounds and others busy engrossed in their school work these two have to worry about making enough money to feed both their parents and siblings.
The two children are victims of a hardened society, too venal to care because of the drudgery of poverty, a breakdown of the family structures, and lack of social security measures for vulnerable members of society such as people living with disabilities.
Zimbabwe has enacted a variety of legislations for the upliftment of children but according to non-governmental organisations working with children it has failed to ensure that children do not beg on the streets, become homeless, nor has it been able to get rid of other evils prevalent in society which hinder their development.
“There is a constitution, a supreme law, but it seems there is no respect for its contents since issues of child begging are actually becoming rampant. On the other hand it’s a serious issue for our society. Forcing young minds into begging leads them into other anti-social issues like drugs, sexual exploitation and crimes such as pick pocketing. The problem with us Zimbabweans is that we have grown so cold as a society .We tend to overlook problems until they grow bigger.” saysTinotenda Mangombe of Sexual Morality Internship for Life Empower (SMILE) a non-governmental organisation.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling.
“The fact that some children are helping their parents to beg while others are at school makes it difficult for society to address the issues holistically because of the prevailing economic situation” says Ruby Chimowa a Girl Child Network Coordinator.
The United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) defines child labour as work performed by children who are under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work ,hard labour and is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.
Global estimates based on data from UNICEF and ILO indicate that 268 million children aged five to 17 are engaged in child labour while some 230 million amongst them are below the age of 14.
Social commentators have highlighted that while governments around the world try to fight child labour, the Zimbabwean government’s snail pace in intervening to ease the plight of children with parents living with disability is worsening the situation.
While government has enacted a variety of legislation to strengthen child protection measures, the question remains on how effective these laws are and how serious political leaders are in eradicating the scourge? Political leaders never frame their speeches around such issues making it seem like the political will is not there.
If the state apparatus does not take strict action, and if there are no radical austerity measures put in place to control this situation, Ndakaitei and Inkosizile and many other children like them, born to disabled parents will continue to be deprived of their childhood and education.