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The children left to stand alone

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Abstract:

Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork in Seke, a semi-rural area outside Harare, Zimbabwe, this paper explores the social mechanism behind the seeming invisibility of children left on their own and how this form of 'invisibility' challenges established notions of childhood, parenthood, kinship, and community. It argues that the prevailing explanations, such as HIV/AIDS-related stigma, poverty or anomie, are insufficient for understanding the isolation of the child-headed household and situations when children, in what should be a protective relationship, are exploited or abused. Through a detailed case-study, the paper explores the trajectory leading to the isolation of one particular child-headed household. It questions the biological assumptions that guide kinship interpretations and discusses the marriage transactions (the lobola exchange) that secure identity and belonging to the father's kin unit. Finally, it suggests that orphaned children ultimately stand alone because they are left in a specific time, in a specific situation, when the relationships that should surround them still have to be made, recognised and named.

Keywords: AFRICA; CHILD-HEADED HOUSEHOLDS; COMMUNAL COPING STRATEGIES; KINSHIP; LOBOLA; MARRIAGE TRANSACTIONS; ORPHANS AND VULNERABLE CHILDREN; SHONA; SOCIALITIES

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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