This study assesses trends in the prevalence and status of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) based on data from 2005–06, 1999, and 1994 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Surveys (ZDHS). The study examines four categories of OVC—orphans, fostered children, children in households with no adults age 18–59, and children in households with chronic illness or recent death due to chronic illness. The study analyzes whether these groups are more disadvantaged in education and nutrition than the reference group—children who are not orphans, not fostered, live in households with an adult age 18–59, and live in households with no chronic illness and no recent death due to chronic illness. The study also examines whether adolescent OVC age 15–17 are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking than the reference group.
Study results show that, consistent with other research findings in sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of orphans, fostered children, and child-headed households has increased in recent years. As expected, orphans, fostered children, and children living in households with no adults age 18–59 are generally less likely to be attending school compared with the reference group. Among all groups, however, school attendance is generally high, especially at older ages. Girls are more likely than boys to attend school.
Among OVC age 0–59 months, prevalence of undernourishment increased in the 2005–06 ZDHS compared with 1999. The prevalence of stunting and underweight increased most among fostered children. All categories of OVC are more likely than the reference group to be stunted and underweight, while there is little difference in wasting. Rural children are more likely than urban children to be undernourished, whether OVC or not.
Adolescent OVC age 15–17 are less likely than non-OVC to be attending school, according to the 2005–06 ZDHS. Adolescent OVC are more likely than non-OVC to have initiated sex before age 15, and adolescent OVC are less likely than non-OVC to practice primary abstinence (i.e., never had sex). More than one in three adolescent OVC females reported having experienced physical or sexual violence, particularly so among those living in households with no adults age 18–59. Adolescent OVC females are more likely to have experienced violence than non-OVC. However, there are no clear differences between adolescent OVC and non-OVC on condom use.
These findings highlight that the OVC problem is multi-dimensional and that the burden of the OVC problem in Zimbabwe has increased over the past decade. While through the National Action Plan for OVC considerable attention is already being given to the needs of orphaned children, there is need to expand coverage to other groups of vulnerable children and to strengthen child welfare programs addressing OVC in Zimbabwe. Our findings regarding the disadvantage of OVC in education and nutrition have implications for educational and nutritional programs in the country. Our findings regarding vulnerabilities of adolescent OVC suggest the need to promote continued schooling and strengthen health education programs to promote sexual abstinence, and consistent condom use if abstinence fails. Finally, the reported levels of physical and sexual violence are unacceptably high, more so among adolescent OVC females than among non-OVC, necessitating vigorous efforts to sensitize the country and reach a large and growing population of OVC and their families in Zimbabwe.
Key words: Orphans, OVC, HIV, AIDS, vulnerability, schooling, nutrition, sexual risk-taking, children, adolescents, Zimbabwe.