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No Shelter to House Homeless Children Amid COVID-19

COVID-19 induced economic stress is one of the main causes of GBV; leaving many children in Hwange homeless. Image by UNICEF

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | NOV 2, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic left many children homeless. Most of them left their homes to escape the effects of gender-based violence. Hwange doesn’t have safe homes to house these children.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Low morale in various homes caused by COVID-19 induced economic stress and long periods indoors is considered the main cause of Gender Based Violence (GBV). Informal traders and unskilled workers were the hardest hit. The economic difficulties affected the social fabric resulting in incidents of violence among spouses. All in the presence of children.  
Experiencing GBV as both witnesses and victims, some children fled homes in search of peaceful life.
Unlike in major cities and towns where distressed children end up in streets for lack of care, in Hwange such children ended up in the hands of well-wishers and neighbours, a situation necessitated by the shortage of safe shelters to house children in despair.

“My neighbour was not able to take care of the child. Her husband was retrenched at work. A few months into the pandemic he started drinking illicit alcohol. He was violent and abusive to both the wife and his stepchild. I ended up asking my neighbour to move in with the child for her safety.”
Miriam Sithole, a well-wisher

At the onset of the pandemic, UNICEF predicted that hundreds of millions of children around the world were likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion, and separation from caregivers because of actions taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child rights defenders say factors such as confinement, social isolation, increased levels of financial stress, and weak institutional responses can increase or intensify levels of violence.
UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, together with its partners at the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, released a set of guidance to support authorities and organisations involved in the response.
“Stigma related to COVID-19 left some children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress. At the same time, control measures that do not account for the gender-specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls increased their risk of sexual exploitation, abuse, and child marriage,” says Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection.
In a matter of months, COVID-19 upended the lives of children and families across the globe. Quarantine efforts such as school closures and movement restrictions, while considered necessary, disrupted children's routines and support systems adding new stressors on caregivers who may have to forgo work.

Shortage of safe houses in the mining town made the situation worse as children became more vulnerable and lived at the mercy of perpetrators. Several civic society organisations have acknowledged that additional safe housing is needed during times of pandemics.

“Safe accommodation allows survivors to temporarily escape abusers. Though, it makes guaranteeing the safety of survivors, who remain at home a challenge given that perpetrators know where to reach them and may have access to the home. That’s why we need a multi-stakeholder approach. The police must be included for the safety of survivors,” says Sithabile Ncube, a partner at Rose of Charity Children’s Home in Victoria Falls.
During and post COVID-19, Hwange proved to have many resource-poor settings and limited budgets for addressing violence against children and violence against women even when there is no crisis. Child rights defenders say, despite having many calls during the pandemic, there is a possibility that the numbers were low, possibly because survivors were in an ear shot of perpetrators in quarantine and unable to safely seek help.
“Some routine detection systems were closed, such as teachers or social workers. In Zimbabwe several places reported reductions in child abuse and maltreatment, believed to be due to a reduction in detection, rather than occurrence,” adds Ncube.
At the height of the pandemic, the UN Secretary-General urgently called for peace in homes around the world. However, cases of violence increased. Zimbabwe’s leading organisation in ending GBV, Musasa Project normally records between 500 and 600 cases per month. But, during the lockdown they recorded more numbers in a week.

Cases of Gender Based Violence increased in Zimbabwe during the COVID-19 pandemic despite calls to end the crisis. Image by Newsday

UNFPA Country Representative for Zimbabwe, Dr Esther Muia says women and girls sharing the same space with their abusers during lockdowns were able to access services during that time.
“Self-quarantine or isolation and the limited freedom of mobility that generated from the national framework for COVID-19 response, including lockdown, will likely impact on the women’s and girls’ ability to access basic family resources. But we continue working to provide services to survivors,” says Muia.

ALSO READ: Curio Trading Suffers Blow Amidst COVID-19

As part of the country’s COVID-19 response efforts, UNFPA Zimbabwe worked closely with civil society organisations and the government to ensure the continuation of GBV services. The efforts included static and mobile one-stop centres, shelters, and safe spaces. A haven, Bubi shelter was constructed. The facility brought together the whole community in ending GBV against women and girls.
“The case of Bubi, is encouraging. Hwange must have such shelters especially for children. COVID-19 might be gone but, violence exists, and we need safe shelters. These havens will help us every day and for future pandemics,” says Esther Maunga, a children’s rights lawyer.

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