At 45, Philimon Mashava has never had a bank account or a phone in his name.
He has never had a birth certificate and, without documents, Mashava’s stateless existence has meant him missing out on school and countless job opportunities, as employers want some form of identification.
Being locked out of citizenship in the southern African country is an issue for an estimated 300,000 Zimbabweans, according to Amnesty International.
Mashava has survived by street trading. Born in Chipinge to a Mozambican father who returned home and a Zimbabwean mother who died young, his five children are on track to inherit his statelessness.
“Getting an ID has always been tough because my father’s relatives are in Mozambique and there is no way of getting in contact with them. No one knows exactly where they are,” Mashava says from his home in Hopley, six miles (10km) from the centre of the capital, Harare.
“I just grew up without a birth certificate. This is my life.” And his children’s too, as without one, Mashava’s 16-year-old son cannot sit his school exams.
“My eldest son needs to register for his examinations, but he cannot,” he says.
Thousands are living on these margins. Descendants of foreign nationals who moved to the country to provide cheap migrant labour, they have for decades struggled with statelessness, their situation worsened by discriminatory laws, such as the 1984 Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act, which deprives people of foreign origin from citizenship.
Although section 43 of the constitution of Zimbabwe gives anyone born in Zimbabwe to parents who are citizens of any Southern African Development Community (SADC) state – including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa – the right to citizenship, the legislation is yet to be aligned to the new constitution.
“My heart bleeds for my children, they should never live the life that I have lived. They should be able to go to school and get jobs, and live better lives than mine. I really need help,” Mashava says.
Attempts to engage the authorities to obtain identification for his children have been fruitless. The last time he visited the registrar’s office in Harare, an official asked Mashava for a bribe to speed the process.
“The money that one official asked me to pay was too hefty. I could not pay $350 (£250); I have never held such a kind of money in my life. I am only a vendor,” Mashava says.
Unscrupulous officials and criminals often offer forged birth certificates, which are easily spotted by schools and passport officers.
In a recent report, We Are Like “Stray Animals”, Amnesty has called for the government to act, says Lloyd Kuveya, its research coordinator.
“Nationality and having an identity are a human right, which must be accorded to those people born in Zimbabwe who have no other place they call home. The denial and deprivation of citizenship has serious human rights implications including lack of access to education, employment, housing and health services essential for sustainable livelihoods.
“The authorities must take steps to ensure that no one is living on the margins of society by issuing birth certificates and IDs to stateless people and those at risk.”
On a Wednesday morning in Hopley, Winnet Zhamini, 33, is preparing porridge for her baby on a makeshift stove.
Living with her three sisters, Zhamini has never obtained identification documents and her children are also stateless. Her eldest daughter, who is 20, recently gave birth to her first granddaughter for whom the cycle continues.
“I have never had a birth certificate or an ID. My father was Malawian and settled here in the 70s. When we were born, we never had an opportunity to get birth certificates. My mother, who was Zimbabwean, died without getting these particulars for us; my father just disappeared,” Zhamini says.
“My husband left me because I do not own any particulars. My sister got married and bore four children, but the husband chased her away because she has no ID. Living without any form of identification is tough. I cannot get a job, I survive on doing laundry. But we get exploited because there is no choice,” Zhamini says.
“I’m begging the authorities to help us; this life is unbearable without these particulars. We cannot vote or get jobs. I cannot even buy a sim card. I want my children to have a brighter future and the only way they can have a good life is when they have proper identification documents,” she says.
Her sister Dudzai, 35, said, during the pandemic, she hadn’t been able to get any of the food aid available.
“This has been our life and it has become normal. Whenever our neighbours are registering for aid, we are left out because we do not have identification cards,” says the mother of four.
Fela, 25, is unemployed. Other women her age are in college or working. “I have no prospects of employment because of this problem. I really need a birth certificate and identity card so that I can better my life. I am way behind my age-mates, and I would also want to go back to school,” she says.
Malawian ambassador Annie Kumwenda said Covid had hampered the embassy’s programme to help Zimbabweans of Malawian descent.
“As an embassy, we do outreach programmes, but we have been affected by Covid-19. These programmes help us get enough information on how many people need help. We were also working with UNHCR to reach out to these communities,” says Kumwenda.
Marian Muchenje, 45, was married for two decades before her husband left.
“I am now old, with five children. I have tried several times to get a birth certificate with no success. My marriage is broken because of failure to get particulars. He said he could not live with a woman without an ID. This has affected my children, they too do not have any documents,” she says.
The vicious cycle has now kept three generations of children from school and work, in poor communities where families teeter on the brink of survival, says Hopley Trust chairperson, James Chiware.
“We are appealing for the government to help these families because this affects education and other community programmes. We cannot help them; all we can do is ask for the government to be merciful and help,” he says.
“Until stateless Zimbabweans get documents, they will continue to live like stray animals.”
‘They see it in corridors, in bathrooms, on the bus’: UK schools’ porn crisis | Pornography
Barnardo’s works directly with children who are victims of abuse or display signs of harmful or risky sexual behaviour. In 2020-21, they worked with 382,872 children, young people, parents and carers.
In a recent survey of their frontline workers across England and Wales, staff reported a rise in the number of children participating in acts they have seen in pornographic videos, despite feeling uncomfortable or scared. They describe porn as having a “corrosive” effect on child wellbeing.
Child sexual abuse expert Sarah works with children who are displaying signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour. She also trains other professionals who work with children
“I started out as a primary school teacher eight years ago, and I’ve been worried about children seeing porn ever since. Children don’t have to be able to type to see porn – it can be sent to them or shown to them on someone else’s phone. They see it at school, in the corridors, in the bathrooms, on the bus. There is just no censor on any of it – one video leads to another. If you can imagine it, it exists as porn, and children are seeing it.
“I am working with a teenager who was sexually abused by a family member. This young person had been exposed to porn and it was perpetuating what the abuser told them – that this is normal, that it’s not abuse.”
She is particularly concerned, as are her colleagues, about the increasingly extreme nature of the porn freely available on mainstream sites.
“A common role play theme on porn sites is intra-familial abuse – on mainstream sites you will see fetishisation of grandad and granddaughter sex, or stepfathers and stepdaughters. This may lead to a young person not disclosing or getting the support they need. From both angles it is dangerous; it puts the child at risk and encourages the perpetrator.
“The impact of porn shows in children harming others or themselves because they either don’t understand or are so ashamed of sexual urges. Shame is very prevalent and is often hidden.
“We are working with a seven-year-old who has been exposed to porn and is now displaying sexualised behaviour. They had free rein on a device, and someone hadn’t deleted a browser history. Once a young person sees porn, they may feel a need to come back again and again – porn is designed to meet a need. That is a form of sexual abuse against that child.”
Brian* is a senior social worker who has worked with children for over 30 years
“Unfortunately, porn is a feature for the majority of the children who come into our service. The children we support are very damaged. They would be likely to have experienced multiple forms of abuse – sexual, physical and domestic. Porn in and of itself is not the cause of their behaviour but it becomes a compounding factor when it hits that history of vulnerability.
Adult sex offenders can give children a distorted rationalisation for their behaviour, and the messages that are given through porn then fit with that distortion.
Lucy* has worked within the field of child sexual abuse for 16 years.
“We know children find porn distressing – they are telling us that themselves. We have done research with children in schools so that we have a cohort to compare our vulnerable children to, and they are saying the same thing.
“This is not what could be described as erotic or soft porn. They may start on porn sites and quickly begin to see very hardcore material. Or [extreme material] lands in their social media feeds, and they can then feel compelled to go back and look again.
“Children are less able to manage sexual arousal, and this material is designed to be arousing. Lots of children can feel guilty and distressed by what they see. We have 14-year-olds telling us they have to watch it as soon as they wake up. They describe being preoccupied with accessing porn to an extent that impacts upon their day-to-day life.
“We also regularly work with children with learning disabilities, another group vulnerable to the harm of porn. They may be shielded from sexual information and then reach 13 or 14 and take away the wrong learning from porn. They may learn that no means yes, that if you persist, women will enjoy forced sex. These messages are harmful for any child but for children with learning needs or who have developed unhealthy beliefs around sex as a result of abuse, it’s particularly bad.
“After lockdown, we began to get more calls from parents where there is no other obvious trauma, just the exposure to porn. I’ve been doing this 16 years, and children have far more access to porn now.”
* Names and some details have been changed to protect identities
French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse
Valérie Pécresse, a moderate conservative who has likened herself to former British and German leaders Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, has emerged as a front-runner in primaries in France’s centre-right Les Républicains party, Reuters reports. “I won’t flinch. I have a project for a clean break, a project for the unashamed right,” she said Thursday, ahead of elections against liberal incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right contenders in spring.
Poland plans to set up register of pregnancies to report miscarriages | Poland
Poland is planning to introduce a centralised register of pregnancies that would oblige doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government.
The proposed register would come into effect in January 2022, a year after Poland introduced a near-total ban on abortion.
This has raised serious concerns among women’s rights activists, who believe that in light of the abortion ban, the register could be used to cause legal difficulties for women who have self-administered abortions.
The draft legislation is part of a wide-ranging project to update the medical information system in Poland.
“It’s about control, it’s about making sure that pregnancies end with birth,” Natalia Broniarczyk, an activist from Aborcyjny Dream Team told the Polish weekly Gazeta Wyborcza.
The plan prompted online protests. A social media initiative titled “I’d like to politely report that I am not pregnant” encouraged Polish women to email photos of their used sanitary pads, tampons and underwear to the Polish ministry of health.
The ministry has strongly denied the project amounts to a centralised pregnancy register, with a spokesperson saying the changes are simply part of wide-ranging digitalisation project that will update the way data about a multitude of conditions, including allergies, is stored.
The spokesperson said doctors always had information on pregnancies, but before it was stored on paper by hospitals, rather than centrally by the government.
The concerns of activists about the register grew considerably after a bill proposed by the government that would establish an “institute of family and demographics” passed first reading in the Polish parliament by one vote on Thursday.
The institute would aim to monitor family policy, pass opinion on legislation and educate citizens on the “vital role of family to the social order” and the importance of “cultural-social reproduction” in the context of marriage. The institute would have access to citizens’ personal data and prosecutorial powers in the realm of family law, prompting worries it could be used to enforce the country’s strict abortion law.
The project has drawn widespread criticism from Polish academics and civil rights advocates.
“Maybe just call it the ‘Red Center of Rachel and Leah’,” a feminist organisation from Łódź said in an Instagram post, referencing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. In the novel the Rachel and Leah Center is a training facility for women designated to be “breeders” by the authoritarian regime.
The committee of demographic researchers at the Polish Academy of Sciences has issued a statement expressing concerns that the “pro-natalist propaganda” would take precedent over scientific research at the institute.
“The project aims exclusively to promote traditional model of family,” Adam Bodnar, Poland’s former ombudsman for citizen rights, told the Polish news website Oko.press. “It could also become a tool against those who fall outside this model, for example those who do not conform to heteronormative norms.”
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