Tender years lost: Zimbabwe's children suffer from country's worst economic crisis
Fighting inflation rate of 175%
With power cuts lasting 19 hours per day, debilitating water shortages, inflation at 175% and many basic items in scarce supply, Zimbabwe's children are the silent victims of the once-prosperous southern African country's debilitating economic downfall.
Tanyaradzwa would rather be home playing computer games with friends. But for his family of six to eat he must hang around the bar at the popular Elizabeth Hotel in hopes of cashing in on afternoon drinkers and passersby who want to buy cigarettes, he said.
His parents run a small vegetable stall in Glen View, a working class residential area, but what they make is hardly enough to pay the bills, let alone buy food.
Juggling b/w school and work
Children are forced to juggle between school demands and supplementing the family income through street vending or selling at small stalls. "These holidays just mean more work. There is no break, because I now have no excuse not to work every day," said Tanyaradzwa.
On the adjacent, busy street named after former longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, children joined elders pushing fruit and vegetable carts. Some kids held cardboard boxes selling items ranging from cigarettes, cell phone airtime, sweets and clothing.
Leading cause of absenteeism in school
Even if they come (to school), they are either sleepy or, instead of concentrating on school work they are busy thinking "Where will we get the next meal if I don't sell enough items after school today?"
Teachers have their own grievances. They are paid the equivalent of about $50 a month and, like the rest of the civil service, say they cannot live on those wages, which they call "slave salaries."
The food situation is dire in Zimbabwe, with about a third of the country's 17 million people being food insecure due to drought and the worsening economy, according to a report released this month by U.N. agencies, international aid organizations and the government.
Mitigating unfolding disaster
Close to 160,000 children and adolescents will need welfare and child protection services, according to the U.N. Expectations were high that Zimbabwe's economy would grow following Mugabe's departure at the end of 2017. But the economy did not take off and will contract 3% this year, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, said this month.
After inflation reached a decade-high of 175.6% last month, Ncube suspended the country's monthly inflation reports, saying that last year's prices were in U.S. dollars and now they are in Zimbabwe's currency, introduced in June, so they are not comparable.
However, that has not stopped schools from feeling the pinch of rising prices and eroding incomes. For the coming school term, some boarding schools are asking parents to provide food instead of paying school fee increases.
Dream to make it big
"I have dreams, big ones," he said, smiling. "I want to be a lawyer." To achieve that dream, he is sacrificing much of his childhood. "There is no time to play with friends," he said. "The work, the school, it takes all of my time."