Mariam Mambayo 45, attends to a customer while her two-year-old toddler aimlessly runs towards the busy road along Robert Mugabe Street in Harare.
Just seconds later, a speeding motorist miraculously misses the toddler by a few centimetres. The motorist frantically steps out of his car and shouts at everyone who cares to listen. “Whose child is this, where is the mother?”
At that time, Marian quietly moves and takes her child, but does not say anything. The motorist shouts obscenities at the mother before threatening to give her physical justice for child neglect. However, Marian seems unfazed but rather responds “Where do you want me to put the child”
A few meters away, about four or five toddlers are also unattended playing too close to the busy road while their mothers are busy serving customers.
After the death of her husband, Marian has been the sole breadwinner for her two-year-old toddler.
“I don’t know how to read and write so; I couldn’t have done any other job apart from street vending even if I wanted to.”
It has been nearly two years since she began street vending. She earns somewhere between USD70-100 every month, barely enough to get by.
“It’s tough. But we try to adjust,” she said. She says she has come around to being somewhat satisfied with her work but that it’s a risky life, as “we are out in the streets the whole day and we have nowhere to take these children. “We end up just bringing the children to work as there is no money for housekeepers,” she said.
Such are the daily lives of vending mothers who bear the burden of raising their children in a hazardous environment for children.
Marian is one of the thousands of women who suffer the implications of concurrent street vending and childcare.
Indications are that the practice is concomitant with poor nurturance of children; elevated children’s vulnerability to road traffic accidents, child trafficking and exposure to diseases.
According to a psychologist, Sharon Sawana, these children lack basic life training and social relations.
“It (concurrent street vending and childcare) has an effect of prematurely socializing children to the love for money. They lack basic socialization skills so it becomes harder for them to create or initiate general relations with their peers which could be problematic in the future.
“Also, the morals of such children are at stake since street vending attracts adults from all walks of life whose actions and behaviours young children learn,” Sawana said.
The hygiene of the whole street trade is lacking and not suitable for loitering and crawling children, especially during the rainy season.
However, the inability to utilize more suitable childcare options forces women like Marian to keep children on the streets amidst existing policies on the practice.
For a long time, such women have yearned for better and safer places to sell their wares but too often they have been met with resistance from the council.
“We have complained to the city council about our working environments. They keep telling us that they will arrange for a protected market, but they have not done anything so far. “Sometimes we do running battles with children on our backs which is a danger to the little ones,” said Yeukai Chifamba, a vending neighbour to Marian.
Unbeknown to these women is that there are laws which prohibit them from having their minors with them while working as authorities say the children are subjected to all forms of abuse.
“These children are being abused, so, under the Child Justice Bill, we will be able to arrest and take these parents to court for prosecution,” Susan Ngani, who is the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’s Harare provincial social welfare officer said recently.
The law, she said, forbids vendors from being accompanied by minors to vending sites, whether designated or undesignated.
“Any parent or guardian of a child or young person who allows that child or young person or any person who causes any child or young person — (a) to beg; or (b) to accompany him or any other person while he begs; or (c) to induce or to endeavour to induce the giving of alms; or (d) to perform or be exhibited in any way for public entertainment in a manner likely to be detrimental to the child’s or young person’s health, morals, mind or body; shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or to imprisonment,” reads part of the Act.
Ngani said although the Act has been in existence for some time, it was not being enforced. The Government is also working on a Child Justice Bill to buttress the protection of minors in Zimbabwe
To mitigate this, a day-care centre is set to be established in the CBD which will give first preference to vendors and parents working in town for them to leave their children under the care of skilled social workers during the day.
The mothers will then collect their children after finishing their work.
The children are being deprived of their rights to access quality education, shelter, health services, social security and social care.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to several conventions that protects children from abuse including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.
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