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Margaret Marandure believes community childcare workers should receive more support. Pic credit: Timothy Manyange

Child rights whistleblowers seek more support

TSHOLOTSHO – The goal of leaving no one behind is in danger of remaining a pipe dream in the absence of targeted interventions to increase the resources of Community Childcare Workers (CCWs), according to Margaret Marandure and Simangile Ndebele.

The two CCWs say that despite caring for more than 85 children, between them, through foster care, over the course of more than ten years, their work is still gravely underfunded.

The two CCWs operate in a Matabeleland North province district with a large population that still has great need for obtaining national documents.

Lack of alternative transport is one of the major issues CCWs deal with as it limits their capacity to reach impacted children and implement quick interventions, says Ndebele.

The 50-year-old Ndebele says she frequently travels significant distances, on foot, to different places in Tsholotsho to ascertain information regarding child protection.

“I often walk long distances to reach affected children,” she says, adding: “sometimes I don’t have airtime to call and get in contact where there is need. Most of the time I come across children with great need but how do you assist them when you have nothing?”

Simangile Ndebele and her primary school-going foster child. She has been living with her since she was a two week-old baby. Pic credit Thomas Manyange.

Marandure, 74, who along with her 84-year-old husband, Micah Nyathi, provide foster care for children in their Village 13, Tsholotsho home says “we get our mandate from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, but apart from technical support, there is little in the way of assistance, perhaps maybe because the department is also financially struggling.”

“I often seek help from churches and government departments. Food aid comes in drabs. Matters to do with clothing for the children are non-existent.”

Turning to other challenges faced by CCWs, a social development officer from Tsholotsho district, who cannot be named as they were not granted permission to speak to the media, says CCWs are prone to abuse because they whistle-blow what is happening in the community.

“These CCWs are the eyes and ears of the ministry,” the official says.

“They are the first point of contact for child welfare issues that affect children’s well-being in communities. But they are also vulnerable to victimization and sometimes have to operate unnoticed. They also encounter resistance and intimidation from some parents and communities who do not want them to expose cases of child abuse or neglect.”

Marandure, says though being a CCW is a voluntary occupation, the inadequacy surrounding the work and the harsh conditions facing children in their care, has left many on the edge of quitting.

“I have been a foster parent since I was 35-year-old, several years of those as a CCW. In that time some of the children I have assisted have gone on to become lecturers and some now have their own families and are thriving, so that gives me the drive to stay on and continue,” she says.

On the technical support, partners such as Sweden and UNICEF have come in as a major boost in assisting Zimbabwe’s government in developing and supporting the country’s child protection system.

Sweden recently allocated US$5.8 million to UNICEF Zimbabwe to support the efforts of Zimbabwe’s government in areas that are critical to protect children against violence, abuse and exploitation.

The multi-donor fund mechanism is open to all partners interested in supporting the efforts of the Government of Zimbabwe to provide a safe and secure protective environment for children to grow up in.

The absence of well-equipped social service workers risks undermining the laws, policies and programmes that governments establish to protect children, more so in a country, where almost two out of every three children experience some form of violent discipline, nearly one third of children as young as 5 up to 17 years are working and one in three girls under 18 experience sexual violence leading to teen pregnancy and early marriage.