The high incidence of HIV, high number of orphans (1.3 million) and high unemployment rate (95%) translates in to the reality that many children in Zimbabwe are vulnerable to child abuse, exploitation and denial of access to basic rights like health and education.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that societies, through good governance, must provide measures to ensure that the child is protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation. Social protection is especially paramount to protect children living difficult situations such as those living on the street, forced into child labor, forced into child prostitution (particularly among young girls), and children with disabilities.
What is Social Protection?
Social protection refers to processes, policies and interventions, and entities (such as the government, private sector and civil society) who respond to the economic, political, and security risks faced by a region's population, particularly those categorized as the poor and vulnerable (Suharto, 2007).
As an approach, social protection includes all interventions from the public and private sectors, together with community-based organizations, which support individuals, households, and communities in preventing, managing, and overcoming risks and vulnerabilities. It also includes basic securities such as income, food, health, education, and shelter following from a human rights approach, and economic securities such as having rights-based issues for all children that are meant to uplift their developmental status and stages.
The best form of social protection or support is a healthy family and supportive environment, preferably in the child's community of origin or one that is culturally similar.
Social protection is a product of multiple supports, rooted in the ability of the child to form healthy relationships and participate in community and social networks.
A child is far less likely to experience psychosocial stress if he/she has good natural support mechanisms. Therefore, social protection efforts should focus on supporting families and communities to help each other. Psychosocial activities must promote child development and relationships with others, re-establish routines, and increase self-confidence and sense of control. Interventions should be empowering, inclusive, and fully integrated with wider community efforts. It is essential that children participate in psychosocial work and care. The children should also be encouraged to express their opinions, which must also be considered and taken into account.
As many children live without the support of parents, it is necessary to understand the roles of different actors and institutions in the lives of these children such as teachers and police.
What is Children First doing to help?
Children First saw a need to complement government efforts in the following social protection areas in which there were gaps.
Psychosocial Support Services
Children First reached over 19,000 children with psychosocial support services in 2009. These services included bereavement counseling, peer support groups, support camps, home visits and referral, clinical counseling, and family therapy. Self-esteem and life skills development though recreation and team building programs are also part of support activities implemented through support groups and camps.
Approximately 1,350 children received legal aid, including medical assistance and counseling for child abuse, help with applying for a birth certificate, and assistance with inheritance rights.
Mainstreaming support activities in schools
Children First also trained 36 teachers to mainstream psychosocial support in schools by organizing activities such as clinical counseling sessions, educare drama, and support clubs. In addition, Children First established school-based counseling programs in all the schools it is currently operating. In 2009, Children First provided approximately 250 street children with reproductive health education, vocational training, and hygiene support. Children First also increased efforts to training the community on psychosocial support issues and child rights and abuse issues to make communities more aware of issues of child abuse. The community training resulted in dramatically increased reporting of child abuse cases.