Dr Peter Salama, the UNICEF representative to Zimbabwe said HIV/Aids remained the biggest killer of children. This is despite millions of dollars pouring into the country to fight the pandemic.
“Around one in 10 children today die before the age of five. This represents around 100 child deaths a day – most are entirely preventable,” Dr Salama told guests to the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Harare at the weekend.
He said Zimbabwe’s situation was “tragic” because it contrasted global patterns.
“While the rate of under five mortality has dropped all over the world, it has gone up in Zimbabwe by more than 20 percent,” Dr Salama said.
“One quarter of Zimbabwean children are orphans. Studies have shown that orphans, especially girls, are less likely to receive health care, attend school, or have clothes to wear and more likely to have psychological problems and at higher risk of sexual abuse.”
The Family Support Trust clinic at Harare Central Hospital this month said 30 000 children were treated for sexual abuse in the past four years, a trend experts believe is a direct result of the country’s economic meltdown under President Robert Mugabe’s government leading to widespread family breakdown and leaving many minors vulnerable.
The economic collapse, political violence and widespread starvation in Zimbabwe over the past decade have driven numerous people abroad – with an estimated three million fleeing to South Africa alone – often leaving their children in the care of extended family or friends some of whom abuse the children.
Hundreds of thousands more children have been orphaned by HIV/Aids or other diseases in a country where the health delivery system has completely broken down resulting in the average life expectancy plummetting to 37 for men and 34 for women, among the lowest in the world.
A unity government between Mugabe and Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has moved fast to try tot revive the public health system but its remains hamstrung with lack of funds as rich Western donor nations insist that they will only give direct financial assistance to Harare if Mugabe implements more political reforms to ensure return to democracy. – ZimOnline