Children under great threat in post election violence

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Children are not being spared the impact of Zimbabwe’s post-election violence.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Zimbabwe told IRIN its work was being hampered by the countrywide violence, which, according to widespread reports, was being carried out by soldiers, war veterans and militias loyal to the ruling ZANU-PF government.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the loss of ZANU-PF’s majority in parliament after the 29 March elections had sparked both retribution against opposition supporters and a campaign of intimidation ahead of an expected second round of voting in the presidential ballot.

The MDC claim their leader won the presidential poll with 50 percent plus one vote, a majority that negates the need for a second round of voting, but ZANU-PF maintain that no candidate reached the required threshold. More than a month after the poll, the results of the presidential vote have not been released.

“Any violence against children, their families and their communities seriously threatens the wellbeing and long-term development of children,” James Elder, head of communications at UNICEF Zimbabwe, told IRIN.

He said UNICEF’s “regular programmes are currently being negatively impacted by the political impasse in the country”, and that his organisation recently contacted 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) implementing programmes for children and “found that almost half had virtually suspended their activities for children due to concern at current uncertainties”.

Elder said UNICEF had increased visits by its programme staff to projects and was working with partners “to create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to re-activate all programmes for children”, which were expected to reach more than 150,000 orphans in May with packages ensuring good nutrition, health and education for the beneficiaries, in addition to water-treatment chemicals in areas affected by severe water shortages.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, told a forum on Tuesday during the meeting of the Security Council that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, caused by the delay in announcing presidential poll results and the violence that has flared up, was “worrisome”.

“Because of the increasing violence and the number of displaced people fleeing their homes to other places, there is a serious humanitarian crisis,” Ban said.

More than 200 MDC supporters were arrested at the MDC’s party headquarters in the capital, Harare, after fleeing because their homes had allegedly been razed by ZANU-PF supporters.

Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena told the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, that children were among those arrested, but that 29 people were released on the day of the mass arrests, “mainly women, babies and the elderly”.

Nelson Chamisa, the MDC spokesperson, described the raid on the MDC offices as “a heinous show of state brutality”, and asked, “What kind of a government is it that willy-nilly tramples on the rights of children?”

Chased out of rural areas

Ndatadzei Karonga, 65, of Chihota district in Mashonaland East Province, about 130km north of Harare, fled to the capital with her three grandchildren – both her daughters had died of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses – after militias accused her of having a son who worked in Harare.
“The young men told me that my sin was that I have a son who works in Harare, labelling everyone residing in urban areas as a sell-out because the MDC gets most of its support from towns and cities. I feared that they would assault or kill me, and had no option but to join my son here [in Harare] because at least it is safer,” Karonga told IRIN.

Her bachelor son lives in a single room and works as a bartender in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, about 30km from Harare, taking home a monthly wage of Z$2billion, enough to buy nine loaves of bread.

“All the three children were supposed to have returned to school when schools opened for the second term but, given the latest developments, we might just as well forget about their education. My son is poorly paid and there is no food for the children, unlike back in Chihota, where I had my own food reserves that would be complemented by caregivers,” she said.

Tendai (not her real name), 32, a single mother and another victim of political violence, hitch-hiked from Murewa, about 90km northeast of Harare, with her three-year-old daughter strapped to her back, in the hope of obtaining antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) from the MDC.

“Being HIV-positive, I was getting my ARVs from a clinic in Murewa, but lost the drugs after war veterans and militias torched my late mother’s house. My child is also sick, and if I don’t get help immediately I might lose him,” Tendai, an MDC ward political commissar, told IRIN.

She had to leave her home so suddenly that she was unable to tell her seven-year-old son, who had been spending the school holiday in Gweru, in Midlands Province, not to return to their rural home.

“I think he will be traumatised to find his home reduced to ashes. Who will ensure that he is fed, bathed and sent to school, and how will he feel to know that his mother has disappeared after some people tried to kill her?”

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