The formation, constitution and social dynamics of orphaned child headed households in rural Zimbabwe in the era of HIV/AIDS pandemic
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This thesis focuses on children who have lost both parents and are currently living on their own as child headed households (CHHs) in a rural community in Zimbabwe. Children heading households and taking care of siblings is a very “un-childlike” behaviour yet these are growing phenomena. Through an exploration of how CHHs are constituted and evolve the thesis aims to examine whether local constructions of childhood are being (re) conceptualised as a result of Zimbabwe’s escalating HIV/AIDS crisis. In particular it examines whether the socialisation of children within ‘child only’ units is leading to social transformation and/or whether children are in some way attempting to mimic ‘normal’ family/gender relations. It also looks at CHH’s interactions with adults and explores how these affect survival strategies, socialisation and conceptualisations of childhood. This thesis draws on an intensive ethnographic research project with five CHHs and their siblings in a rural community in Zimbabwe. Participant observation, narratives, drama, essays, focus groups, conversations and participatory techniques were employed to gain an in-depth insight into household evolution, the socialisation of family members, gender roles and survival strategies. The thesis shows that while children living in CHHs are vulnerable, they exhibited considerable competence and capabilities to sustain themselves. However, state and non-governmental organisations’ definition of childhood and orphanhood on the other hand, and cultural and local understanding of childhood and orphanhood produce new conceptual struggles of childhood that impacts negatively on the CHHs’ integration into society and their capacity to function fully. The ambivalent position of orphaned children in CHHs needs to be addressed if CHHs are to be recognised as an alternative orphan care arrangement.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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