Gender and child rights activists have expressed concern over the growing number of children working as highway hawkers in Karoi town.
Laiza Kufahakurotwi, district officer in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises told ths publication recently on the sidelines of a Spotlight Initiative programme event, that many children were working as highway hawkers opening them to sexual abuse and other dangers.
“Child highway hawkers are a major problem here in Karoi and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that we work closely together to end this problem, “ she said. Karoi, just like other towns and cities in the country is grappling with child highway hawkers who sell goods, mostly edible items even on board vehicles that ply on the Harare-Chirundu highway leading into Zambia.
“As the buses, trucks and other vehicles come to a halt in certain commercial and other points along the highway, the child hawkers rush to the vehicles and approach the passengers to buy their goods. In some cases, the child highway hawkers get on board the vehicle even before it completely stops. This has often caused accidents and injuries to the children,” Kufahakurotwi said.
“So many of the children eke out their livelihood by vending goods on the major highways. We are working closely with gender champions under the Spotlight initiatives to take them off the streets and go back to school.”
To address problems related to early child sexual abuses and child highway hawkers in Karoi, a consortium comprising the government, Caritas and other community based organisations (CBOs) are spearheading programmes to raise awareness on the impact of GBV on young women and girls.
The programmes running under the Spotlight Initiative supported through a partnership between the European Union and the United Nations are aimed at ending violence against women and girls and harmful practices.
Zimbabwe is among the 20 countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean which are participating in the four – year programme which started in 2019 and ends in June 2021 for the first phase.
The country was supported by the EU to the tune US$30 million for the first phase to help Zimbabwe meet some of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 3 and 5) on empowering women and girls to realise their full potential in a violent free, gender-responsive and inclusive environment.
“Child highway hawkers are not going to school and we are working closely with councillors and locals to convince parents and relatives to encourage them to go to school,” said Colleta Ruzvidzo, a survivor of gender based violence and gender champion in Karoi.
“Parents or guardians send children on the highway to sell foodstuffs to help them survive but all this is done at the expense of the child. We are helping the local community to become aware of the risks that child highway hawkers face.” This way, Ruzvidzo and other gender champions who were trained by Caritas, hope people will embrace the message and fight to end child highway hawking.
“Knowledge is quite important for the people. We are raising awareness in Karoi now and dialogue around GBV issues are helping locals to understand the importance of sending children to school and protecting them from the risks of child highway hawking,” said Jessica Mbewe, 37, a gender ambassador who was married off at the age of 15.
“Child highway hawkers are raped or abused when they sell foodstuffs on the road. We are working hard to campaign and raise awareness. I’m happy that we have managed to remove two children from the highway vending trade.”
Mbewe said they worked closely with the guardians of the two children to assist them to end their child hawking trade.
“We need to do more to convince more people to remove their children from the highway and send them to school,” she said.
“These children sometimes work till around 2 or 3am under hostile conditions. They are sexually abused and exposed to risks of HIV and traffic accidents.”
Pardon Chabata Caritas Spotlight Initiative coordinator said the main reason of school drop outs is poverty — something which has forced children in Karoi to take up jobs as highway hawkers.
“Most of the children drop out of school not because they want to, but because of poverty and loss of parents. We are trying to use the Spotlight initiative to give them the opportunity to go back to school and learn.”
Most of the child highway hawkers are not masters of their own earnings.
Parents or guardians of most children take their wages and keep the earnings.
Some of those who take the wages save some money but majority of them do not save at all as they spend all the money for their survival. The child highway hawkers often suffer a number of problems. These problems include health hazards, sickness, security related problem, low business, long working hours, low wages, accidents and verbal, physical, sexual and mental abuses and harassment. Child highway hawkers were found to have been abused by their colleagues, passengers, customers, local boys, drivers, helpers and even employers.
UN Women country office says the Spotlight Initiative will help Zimbabwe to meet its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5.3) which aims to end child marriages and other forms of abuse by 2030.