There are about 100,000 child-headed households in Zimbabwe and a quarter of all children in the country, about 1.6 million, have lost one or both parents to HIV and other causes. HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe is one of the world's highest, at 13 percent.
The government has started rolling out a cash transfer programme with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), under the National Action Plan (NAP) for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (2011-2015). The implementation of the plan is supported by the Child Protection Fund, a multi-donor-pooled funding mechanism managed by UNICEF.
Under the cash transfer programme, extremely poor households will receive an average of US$20 a month. The payout will vary depending on the size of the family.
A pilot programme is under way in Goromonzi, about 100km outside the capital Harare, where about 105 households are receiving payments. This pilot programme is intended to assist the government in designing a national scheme by December 2013.
Sydney Mhishi, director of social services in the Ministry of Labour and Social Services, said the full roll-out was expected to begin in July 2011 to an estimated 23,166 households in the first year.
Mhishi said community committees would help to determine which households qualified for financial support.
Beneficiaries are selected after a census of all households followed by a poverty assessment by an independent agency in consultation with child protection committees.
The cash transfer scheme has been allocated $4 million in its first year, covering 10 poorest districts in each of the 10 provinces. In the second year, another 10 districts will be added using the same criteria, with the goal of reaching 30 districts by the third year of implementation.
A recent UNICEF report on the status of women and children in Zimbabwe found that worrying levels of poverty and vulnerability were limiting women’s and children’s access to education, medical care and social protection. The report highlights that endemic poverty and HIV/AIDS are the major contributors to high levels of vulnerability.
“We know that many orphaned children in child-headed households are poor and struggle to even access the most basic social services. As a result, they are sometimes forced to work to meet their daily needs. In the process they miss out on school and fail to access life-saving health services,” said UNICEF country representative Peter Salama.
“We have introduced the cash transfer programme with this in mind. Our intention is to reduce poverty and vulnerability levels in these households and to ensure that these orphaned children are not disadvantaged or end up engaging in risky behaviours to survive," he added.
Developing countries are increasingly relying on cash transfer programmes to tackle childhood poverty. In 2009, Lesotho introduced a pilot programme in three districts, while a similar project in Kenya has reached orphans and vulnerable children in 90,000 households.
In South Africa, which has the largest cash transfer scheme on the continent, studies have shown that children in poor households who received monthly child support grants were more likely to be enrolled in school and have better access to food and healthcare.