Disability in Zimbabwe

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DISABILITY IN ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwe is becoming an increasingly impoverished country with one of the biggest gaps between the rich and the poor. In January 2007 the inflation rate is reported to be over 1800% !  In addition we have one of the highest AIDS infection rates in the world. Invariably it is the poorer sectors of society who suffer most under such circumstances. In addition to poverty and the threat of AIDS our children are further disadvantaged by being disabled. Disabled people in Zimbabwe have always been socially disadvantaged and even now many are not accepted into society but are kept hidden by their families. There is at last a strong group in Zimbabwe lobbying for the rights of the disabled but at present this is only looking at the rights of an adult. The position for disabled children is even worse than for adults:-

  • Up until a few years ago most severely disabled children were kept at home and were excluded even from normal family life. More children are now being sent to school at an earlier age but still too many disabled children are kept at home until they are too big to handle and then sent to school when it is sometimes too late for effective treatment. We have just been asked to help a 20 year disabled man who was found in one of the rural areas of Zimbabwe.  He appears to have normal intelligence but because of his physical disability was never given the opportunity to go to school.  He will not be alone in this. During the official Census of 1992 there were many cases of parents replying to the question of how many children they had with the answer - “I have 4 children and that disabled one”!
  • Nearly half of our disabled children come from one-parent families. Parents often blame each other for having a child with a disability, one parent will then abandon the family and stepparents are reluctant to take on a disabled child. This can cause much fighting and disruption in a family with the disabled child being at the centre of the trouble.
  • Disabled children in Zimbabwe suffer from the continual fear of being abandoned. They unfortunately accept that they will not be fully participating members of the family and as AIDS takes its toll in a family and children are passed from one adult to another, they always have the question “What will happen to me”. At the end of every term, children at KGVI wait anxiously at the door and ask themselves if this will be the holiday when no one will come to pick them and take them home.
  • Too frequently when our disabled children go home for the holidays their parents or guardians cannot accept their new found skills and independence. Often they are still left sitting in a corner, considered to be a trial to the rest of the family instead of being encouraged to use their growing abilities.
  • Schools and tertiary education centres are reluctant to take in disabled children. One of the ex-pupils from this school was refused entrance to the local university simply because he is hard of hearing, several have been unable to attend secretarial colleges because they are situated upstairs.
  • Public transport is a problem and many children have to be pushed to school because the local minibus services are unwilling to take the time and trouble to load up a child in a wheelchair.   We have many cases of public buses refusing to take a child in a wheelchair which makes transport home during the holidays a nightmare.
  • Most companies are unwilling to offer work experience to school leavers and certainly do not give them permanent employment.
  • Most buildings are inaccessible to children in wheelchairs or on crutches. When the KGVI band performs at any public venue they have to be lifted on to the stage in their wheelchairs!
  • No allowances are made for those children who are hard of hearing. No signing is permitted for exams and they are expected to take the same exams as their hearing classmates.
  • Disabled children are excluded from most inter school events because of the problems of access, seating or simply an unwillingness to allow such children to participate with ‘normal children’!
  • A survey undertaken by Unicef on Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Child Care Practices in Zimbabwe failed to find any realistic figures on children with disabilities. When challenged on this the consultants claimed that the disabled children had been hidden away from them. Further information to come out of this study was that most school children interviewed maintained that disabled children should not be offered an education! (June 2001)

In a wealthy country such problems would automatically come under the work of a social welfare department and social workers. Unfortunately, the social welfare department in Zimbabwe is probably the most impoverished and demoralised of all government departments. Many of our children come under this department because their parents simply cannot manage to pay school fees, transport and other basic needs. In the past the ministry has paid out a pittance per child per month! Now they cannot even afford this. Most disturbing of all is that the department has not been able to assist us with the increasing number of serious social problems faced by our students.