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Sunday 25 December 2005
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ZIMBABWE: Grandparents shoulder the burden of care

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  Obinna Anyadike/IRIN

Grandparent-headed households often lack the resources needed to sustain a family

HARARE, 27 September (PLUSNEWS) - Ndanda Ncube wakes up every morning to do the household chores, gather some firewood and feed his six grandchildren. At 80, Ncube should be settling into retirement but the HIV/AIDS pandemic has brought a new burden of responsibilities.

As a growing number of children lose their parents to AIDS, traditional family safety nets have been overwhelmed and orphan care has largely fallen to grandparents. The government estimates that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has orphaned over one million children.

A visit by PlusNews to Emphandeni in Mangwe district, about 150 kilometres northeast of Bulawayo, revealed the desperation that AIDS has etched on the face of many rural communities.

"My eldest daughter died of AIDS in September 2002; two of her brothers also died later that year, leaving me to care for six orphans at once. We never expected to be still looking after children at our age, but there is nothing we can do," Ncube said.

It is a struggle to feed and school the orphaned children, especially in the face of Zimbabwe's severe economic crisis, where serious food and fuel shortages due to the government's fast-track land redistribution programme and recurring droughts that have disrupted agricultural production and slashed export earnings.

"I am now old and weary. It is difficult for me to go to the fields, so I have to buy the food. Sometimes things are so hard that we cannot even buy a bucket of maize-meal for the children. Our remaining daughter left for Botswana and left us with her son, Lyton, to look after," Ncube said.

"School fees are also a major problem. I have sold all my livestock so that at least they can go to school, I do not know what I will have to sell next," he commented.

Dr Neddy Matsalaga, author of the book, 'Grandmothers and Orphan Care in Zimbabwe', acknowledged that grandparent-headed households often lacked the resources needed to sustain a family.

"Most rural communities in Zimbabwe depend on subsistence farming, which requires farming inputs and intensive adult labour. The major challenge for grandmother households is the shortage of adult labour to produce food," he noted.

But experts have pointed out that grandparent-headed households could, if properly supported, provide a much better alternative to orphaned and vulnerable children.

"The 'grandmother phenomenon' is dominant for the moment, I think, in much of east and southern Africa. It is a legitimate extended family arrangement and the kids, by and large, are related to one another and they are happy in that sense," said Stephen Lewis, UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

"Where they have turned it over to the broader community rather than a grandmother or part of the extended family, the arrangements are often makeshift and ad hoc, and the kids are struggling," he observed.

Matsalaga echoed the same sentiment: "Grandparent households should be provided with support, as it is a legitimate extended family structure - grandparents provide an adult figure for the children. There is also an reciprocity in the relationship between the children and the grandparent, where the children are also caring for their grandparent."

Ncube fears what will happen to his grandchildren when he can no longer be there for them. "I am old and soon I will move on - who will look after the children and provide for them? These days things are tough and no-one will look after someone [else's] child."

A survey in two Zimbabwean districts in 2000 showed that Ncube's was not an isolated predicament: at least two-thirds of households that had lost a key adult female had disintegrated and dispersed; the opportunities open to children growing up as orphans were drastically reduced, and they were often compelled to adopt survival strategies that could further endanger their lives.

Rueben Musarandega, advocacy officer of the Child Protection Society in Zimbabwe, called for more to be done to help children in the care of grandparents, as the grandparents were often incapacitated by age and could not meet the children's needs, leading to child labour in these households.


Recent ZIMBABWE Reports
Prevention campaigns successful as HIV rate drops,  8/Dec/05
AIDS orphans and vulnerable children bear the brunt of collapsing economy,  15/Nov/05
Greater focus urged on protection of children from HIV,  26/Oct/05
Teachers urge free ARVs as AIDS thins their ranks,  14/Oct/05
HIV/AIDS drop - behavioural change or skewed statistics?,  10/Oct/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS

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