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Country analysis > Zimbabwe Last update: 2020-11-27  

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A Study of Child-Headed Households on Commercial Farms in Zimbabwe

The extended family is often already overloaded

7. Summary of the findings: The Community

All of the respondents reported that they were worried about the children in these child headed household and wanted to be able to help in some way. They also reported that many people in the wider community were concerned and wished to help. Two of the respondents did claim that they felt that the community did not care about the children and one claimed that "people have too many problems of their own". Two people said that the child headed household was seen as a problem by the community because of their anti-social behaviour (being aggressive, withdrawn, uncommunicative, alcohol abuse) and three felt that the children had isolated themselves from the community which made it difficult to help them. 14


Help from the community came mainly in the form of supportive visits and monitoring (44%) by neighbours, volunteers and the FHW. Only one person spoken to said that the children received financial help from the community. One also said that they gave the children work to do in return for food and clothing. 15 Six respondents admitted that they were not doing anything to help the children and one said this was because they were unaware of the children's circumstances (a teacher from a school located on a neighbouring farm). Other respondents expressed the guilt they felt by visiting the home and not being able to offer material help. They felt that visiting "empty handed" was embarrassing.


There was a general feeling amongst the community members interviewed that more should and could be done to help the orphaned children in their community. This issue was explored in some depth during the interviews and all possible sources of support were discussed.

7.3.1 Possible help from the community

The majority of respondents felt that the community could offer moral support to the child headed household even if they were not able to offer material support. 63 % mentioned that they could offer "guidance", "advice" and "teach them about life". 56% talked of discussing the issue with the community as a whole. One person thought that the elders should be consulted and three talked of setting up a committee to take responsibility for the children and 50% felt that it was possible to set up a system of monitoring the children's welfare. 75% of the respondents mentioned the possibility of offering material support (food 31%, clothing 25%, financial 13%.) 13% said that it was possible to give the children help with the household chores and one person mentioned helping the children to build a better house.

In communities where FOST has already undertaken development programmes, there were in evidence community projects 16 or projects run by the children themselves 17 These had helped to meet some of the material needs of the child headed households and to encourage the children and community to work together in a cohesive way. The current economic pressures and uncertainties around the future of the communities have, however, threatened these initiatives significantly.

One suggestion from the community was that they could help the children start a project (19%), make sure the BEAM committee were aware of the children (6%) liaise with the farmer (6%) and help with "peacekeeping" when the children argued.

There was a general reluctance to approach extended family members about the children's welfare. One person said that they may become involved in a dispute and others said that this was not their role. The lack of a traditional community structure is very noticeable here.

7.3.2 What the Government should be doing

There was an overwhelming feeling amongst the respondents that the children should remain at school and complete their education. 88% of the people interviewed felt that the government should make schooling free to orphaned children and 31% said that the BEAM system was not enough. One person said that this assistance should continue to include vocational training.

Nine (34%) respondents felt that the government should offer financial assistance to child headed households and three (11%) felt that the government should offer support for the children to set up income generating projects. Three people also felt that the Registrar General's office should do more to help the children get their birth certificates. One person felt that the Department of Social Welfare should be given more resources so that they could "do their job properly".

7.3.3 What the farmers could do

The community felt that the farmers could help these children by allowing them to stay on the farm (31%) and offering them good accommodation (31%). 13% said that the farmer should give the children the parents' pension and one felt that the children should be given some land on which to grow vegetables. 19% said that the farmer should provide the children with food.

One of the farmers interviewed expressed the opinion that farmers should be doing more and taking more responsibility for vulnerable children on their farm. The other felt that this was not their role. They thought that it was the community's responsibility but that the farmer should support the community by making resources available.

7.3.4 What NGOs could do

The biggest role for NGOs was seen as offering material support (63%) but there was also a feeling that NGOs have a useful role in raising awareness (48%) and in liaising with the farmer, the Dept. of Social Welfare and other stakeholders. 31% said that NGOs could help by training the community in counselling skills and 20% felt that NGOs could do training and workshops with the children to teach them life skills. Two (8%) people talked of how NGOs could offer support for income generating projects.

A significant number (31%) also talked of NGOs offering psycho-social support for the children. When this was explored there was an acknowledgement that psycho-social support had to come from the immediate community but it was felt that there was the need for an "outsider" to also take an interest in the children to make them feel valued. The possibility of this causing resentment amongst other children in the community was discussed but most respondents felt that this problem would not arise if the whole community are aware of the situation of the children and are involved in the programme.

There was also a feeling in communities where volunteers are already involved in the FOST programme(56%), that more could be done to support the volunteers to avoid overload and burn out.


Many of the community members expressed fears for the children's future. The largest concern (56%) was that the serious financial and food shortages would mean that the capacity of the community to help would be further eroded. There was also a real worry about what would happen to the children if the farm was resettled (75%). Three people worried about the risk of abuse (10%) and two people felt that the children might have to engage in work to support themselves. One person feared that the children would become criminals.


The community members were asked about what parents could do before they died to prevent these situations. 38% said that the parents should save money so that the children will have resources if the parents pass away. 25% said that parents should talk to the children and give them advice so that they will know what to do and who to go to for help. The kind of advice they felt the parent should give was:

"Stay together and help each other"
"Be united and care for each other"
"Work hard at school"
"Do not be naughty"

There was an acknowledgement of the cultural taboos around talking about death, especially to children, but that the culture needed to, and could, adapt to the new circumstances in which we find ourselves (25%).

Two people said that they thought that the parents could identify who they would like to care for the children after their death and make the arrangements. Two others felt that children should be taught to be self-reliant so that they are equipped to cope if they lose their parents.

  1. Demonstrating a poor understanding of the signs of trauma in children
  2. Whether this "work" was exploitative was difficult to assess
  3. Gardening, sewing or poultry projects
  4. Often supervised by the school
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