Young Zimbos Opt for Smaller Families

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Maidei Tikiwa, 26, of Chitungwiza has three children. Hararian, Tambudzai Chikanga, 28, has two. For Shamiso Dube, 30, of Mutare, it’s three. Ruvimbo Mazani, of Tafara, has four.

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Blessing Chitambo, 20, wanted two – and got them when her twin boys, Tafadzwa and Tafara, were born four year ago.

“I have always wanted to have two children, that’s something I agreed with my huaband. Two is very normal,” said Chitambo.

Traditionally, six has been the number of children favoured by most Zimbabweans. But the ideal family size appears to have gone through a shift.

Nowadays, deciding how many kids to have isn’t as easy as settling on a magic number, especially against a background of a tough economy, increased educational opportunities for women and increased job demands.

In the past, the number of children that couples chose to have was often determined by household workloads. Hence, couples opeted to have big families in order to secure labourers.

However, today’s parents are increasingly facing a lot of things that need to be balanced. Young couples intend on having children (and those that are looking to have children someday) have to balance school, career choices and relationships. What is interesting is that, unlike in the past, there is now little extended family influence in making decisions about family size.

“It’s now a very personal decision how many children I’m going to have. It’s something that my husband and I have already decided. However, I can’t say what we decide should be a straight-jacket for all,” said Mazani, who added that she and her huband, Tawanda, talked extensively about how many kids they wanted to have.

James Sitiya, 32, who is planning to get married next year, said the choice of a partner largely determines the number of children.

“I think the more educated we become, the less children we opt to have. I see it among most of my friends that are married – three is the highest number of children that most are opting for. It’s just an imperative that one has to balance career development with starting a family,” he said.

In the twentieth century, the typical Zimbabwean woman had six to ten children. During that time, children were largely seen as an asset. Children were regarded as a resource that could be put to work. Parent expected their children to look after them when they were old. Very little money was spent on the education of children, particulalrly, girls.

More recently, children are now seen as an investment. There is an increasing realization among younger Zimbabweans that children require investment in order to have a successful adulthood.

It is proving more difficult financially and logistically to have more children nowadays. Howvever, there is some clear brainwashing that two children, especially if it’s a boy and a girl, is the perfect size for a family. That message is hammered via advertising.

Whatever the case, what is apparent is that Zimbabwe’s family size has significantly shrunk. Two seems to be taking hold, and it’s not surprsing given that it takes appromixately US$200,000 to rear a child from age zero to 18.

Malaria: Taking the Sting Out

WHEN I was about ten years old, I came down with malaria. The mere memory of it still makes my knees jiggle, and I can smell the acrid chloroquine pills which left a bitter after-taste that stayed with me for days and made my urine yellowy and stinky of medication.

I remember feeling sweaty and cold at the same time that I was not sure whether to cover myself with a blanket or jump in a tub full of ice-cold water. My appetite for food was next to nothing; no matter how much my mother tried to entice me to eat, I would simply throw up.

As an African child, I was very lucky to have survived though the memory of my illness still sends shockwaves up my spine. Unfortunately, the chloroquine pills that saved my life are not considered as effective across Africa anymore because the malaria parasite has become resistant. With each dose, the little pest has evolved, so to speak.

Malaria is a big killer on the continent. Of the 30 countries ranked as high-burden malaria countries in the world by WHO, 18 are in Africa.  Continue reading

Bonne Année: 2010

Bonne Année 2010.  Another year, and hopefully an opportunity for a new awakening. For me 2010 marks my first decade in the work world, and the story has not be full of joy. If anything, the past decade has been full of challenges. Much of my work life in particular has been full of ups and downs and I feel that I never really found my groove.

I do know one thing: I love writing.

I celebrated the coming of 2010 in a Parisian Metro sitting next to an old woman who gleamed: “Bonne Anne” at me and melted my heart. As I looked at my watch to confirm the time, the driver announced over the PA system that the new year had come. I mulled over the event of my last day of 2009 with a squint over my face. The last day of 2009 found me flying from Africa (Johennesburg) to Europe (Paris) via the Middle East (Dubai).

In Dubai, I had a seven-hour lay over, and I spent most of it online, surfing the web, writing emails and looking for jobs. While sitting at the airport a Nigerian couple approached me; they were travelling to Paris for their honeymoon and apparently had failed to book into a hotel.

I found myself having to help them up to the point of looking for a hotel in Montparnasse in Paris; and only headed to my rented apartment in La Defence at about 1130. Anyway, I am looking forward to 2010; I hope that its a year that will bring the realization of dreams that I have held for so long. Continue reading

The Great Vasectomy Fear

For most men, the idea of vasectomy, a surgical procedure to cut and close off the tubes that deliver sperm from the testicles, is a complete no-can-do associated with being sexually dysfunctional in the male psyche.

According to the latest issue of Population Reports, titled “Vasectomy: Reaching Out to New Users,” published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, vasectomy is simpler and more cost effective than female sterilization and offers men a way to share responsibility for family planning.

“The most entrenched and powerful rumors concern manhood, masculinity, and sexual performance. Many men confuse vasectomy with castration and fear, incorrectly, that vasectomy will make them impotent,” says the report.  But in fact, “Castration involves removal of the testicles. In contrast, vasectomy leaves the testicles intact, and they continue to produce male hormones.”

The procedure which typically takes from 15-30 minutes and usually causes few complications and no change in sexual function is one of the most reliable forms of contraception. Though it does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections or HIV, for couples it is a way for men to be directly involved in family planning. Family planning has been largely seen as the responsibility of women but vasectomies allow men to play a part.

The report states that the largest number of vasectomized men are in China, where almost 7% of women in relationships — or more than 17 million couples — rely on vasectomy for birth control. Continue reading

Zambia’s Voiceless Children

Lusaka, Zambia – Just a stone’s throw away from the posh Manda Hill Shopping Mall in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, little kids mill around traffic lights sniffing glue and pestering motorists and pedestrians alike for money, food and whatever else they can scrounge.

Many of the kids, dressed in filthy rags, are regarded as a menace to society due to their antisocial behavior. Near the traffic lights a big poster warns the public not to give money or food to the children, euphemistically referred to as “street kids.”

According to the poster, giving money or food only causes the children to remain on the street. Put in other words, the social menace that many of the nouveau rich in this leafy and suburban area fear will continue to grow.

Many of the so-called street kids are part of a generation of children in Zambia that is growing up without parental care, support or guidance. The children are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and disease.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are approximately 1,250,000 orphans in Zambia — that is, one in every four Zambian children — with about 50 percent under nine years of age.

Orphans are defined as children who have lost one or both parents. The extended family network, a traditional safety net for orphaned children, is breaking apart due to the enormity of the HIV crisis throughout the country.

Additionally, the huge number of orphaned children is overwhelming national health, social welfare and education systems in Zambia, as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Most of the children face a bleak future, without parents to care for them and with little, if any, assistance offered by the government.

The children are often traumatized by the death of parents, stigmatized through association with HIV and often thrown into desperate poverty by the loss of breadwinners. They live under enormous pressure and suffer depression and other psychological problems.

Young girls, in particular, are the first to be denied educational opportunities in favor of boys and are forced into early marriages with older men, which put them at higher risk of HIV infection.

Children, both girls and boys, turn to the streets in search of a better life but the reality that confronts them can only be described as grim. Street life creates extreme vulnerability to violence, exploitative and hazardous labor, sex-work and trafficking.

In fact, internal trafficking of children has become rampant in Zambia. Sadly, there is little to no awareness of this social malaise.

Nothing short of a Herculean effort is required to help the growing legion of orphans in Zambia to lead normal lives. A holistic approach that includes provisions for nutrition, health and cognitive development, and educational and psychosocial support is required to effectively respond to the orphan crisis in the country.

Addressing these basic needs at an early age would give orphaned children a healthy start and a more-hopeful future.

Strengthening family systems and community care mechanisms is fundamental to this holistic approach because putting children into institutional homes can have a devastating effect on their self-worth and identity.

Furthermore, there needs to be a concerted effort to keep children in school because school is one recognized shelter that can help the children to discover their own potential.

The government must protect the children of Zambia with improved institutional, legal and social conditions, hopefully bringing an end the need to “protect” motorists from “street kids” at traffic lights.

Zimbabwe: A Cry For the Children

Around the world, AIDS has robbed many children of parents, families and homes.  In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS has orphaned at least 12.3 million children — and the number is increasing.  

In Zimbabwe alone, a combination of HIV/AIDS and poverty has swept through the lives of nearly 1,6 million or 35 percent of children, leaving many orphaned or vulnerable and without hope for the future.  Because children are voiceless, their story tends to be forgotten.

Yet to ignore the story of the child is to ignore the future.  According to UNICEF, almost one in four children in Zimbabwe are now orphaned by AIDS with more joining this number every month. 

Moreover, a child dies every 15 minutes due to AIDS in the country. 

“An estimated 115,000 children under 14 years of age are infected with HIV in Zimbabwe,” reports UNICEF.

“Each week, 550 children die of an AIDS-related illness and other 565 children become infected with HIV.” 

Only 7 percent of Zimbabwe’s HIV-positive pregnant women have access to drugs that prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  

Just like support for the orphaned children, life-saving drugs for HIV positive pregnant mothers remain in short supply. 

Children orphaned by HIV are less likely to attend school and are more vulnerable to the sexual abuses that ultimately spreads HIV.  

The country’s macro-economic problems have all but crippled the social services system, compounding the problems that face children. 

Very few of the orphaned children are receiving appropriate counseling and psychosocial support to deal with stigma and discrimination, and many find themselves victims of societal exclusion and neglect.  

Children whose parents are presumed to have died of AIDS are often thought to be HIV positive themselves.

They are stigmatized, excluded from school and denied treatment when they are sick.  If not addressed, the suffering and neglect of children can have catastrophic consequences, not only for the children themselves but also for their communities and the nation as a whole.

Failure to support children to overcome the trauma caused AIDS may result in a dysfunctional society.  

However, the problems facing children are so varied that no single intervention can impact the well-being of the very large numbers of children affected by HIV and AIDS over the extended time scale of the epidemic. 

Currently, the epidemic is causing growing numbers of households headed by either the elderly or children themselves. These people are often stripped of inheritance rights.  

Children, especially girls, are suffering the loss of education because of their increased caretaking responsibilities at home.

The costs of uniforms, textbooks, supplies and exam fees are keeping children out of school, further compounding their exclusion within society.  

Many children today are at risk of hunger and malnutrition, psychological stress, abuse, exploitation and HIV-infection. Making matters worse, they lack access to appropriate health care.

Family and community resources are near breaking point due to the gravity of the orphan problem and are in need of support.  

There’s a need for the international community to invest in the future of orphaned children in Zimbabwe to avoid the worst economic and development scenarios. That investment must addresses one of the key drivers of the epidemic, which is poverty.  

Community based approaches that enable children to be loved, provided for and cared for in families and reduces the number of children who are left without care or are placed in orphanages urgently need to be supported.  

This is a clarion call: may the world not forget the children of Zimbabwe.