Children without parental care (CWPC) represent the category of children who are not in the overnight care of at least one of their parents, for whatever reason and under whatever circumstances [1]. In Zimbabwe, most of the children referred to as orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) fall within this category.  There is an estimated 26, 6% of the child population in Zimbabwe who are living without parental care, rendering this population of critical concern [4].


The Harmonised Social Cash Transfer (HSCT) (2011) was designed with a child-sensitive component as OVCs are targeted to some extent. HSCT targets poor households in general and OVCs are included in the targeted group but are not the sole beneficiaries of the scheme.  Additionally, the National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF) aims to support 900,000 families below the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) – of which 500,000 are below the Food Poverty Line (FPL) – with social assistance [2].


The Harmonised Social Cash Transfer


One of the main objectives of the HSCT is to enable targeted households to increase their consumption above the poverty line.  A national poverty study reported that 82% of households were regarded as ‘poor’ (below the TCPL) and 44% were ‘very poor’ (below the FPL) [3]. This explains why the HSCT targets labour constrained households who cannot afford adequate food consumption. Most of these households are headed by elderly persons (61%) and children (3%) [4].

This represents a population that is also living without parental care, namely the child-headed households and children left in the care of grandparents while the parents have gone away to seek greener pastures in the aftermath of the economic crisis. This phenomenon of absent parenting has become the norm in Zimbabwe in recent years and has led to increased vulnerability of children.

While the HSCT aims to increase food consumption, the cash injection also provides a safety net for households that would otherwise not have any other source of income. Although the HSCT has not reached all households that are at risk, it aims to reach more than 200,000 households in the targeted communities.


Potential of the HSCT

The HSCT can be said to have covert impacts on the prevention of risks and shocks that befall poor households. For households with children who are living without parental care, the introduction of cash transfers can have the effect of reducing risky income-seeking behaviour amongst young children, such as crime and child prostitution: Poverty has been described as the main driver of child prostitution in Zimbabwe [5], due to a lack of reliable sources of income.

A further priority is preventing children’s separation from their biological families into institutional care. Scholars have found that a small cash transfer could mean the difference between living in an orphanage and living in a family [6]. Therefore the HSCT is likely playing a substantial role in keeping families together in Zimbabwe.

Future research

To upscale social cash transfer programmes and reach more vulnerable populations, it is important to provide evidence-based justification in order to finance the expansion. There are benefits of the HSCT scheme that go beyond improving household consumption that are more hidden, yet are pertinent to the overall livelihoods of children in the targeted households. Identifying that there are certain lifecycle risks that children and families face is an important first step.


Government agencies, international NGOs and policy organisations should consider commissioning research projects that will provide an evidence base of these impacts, beyond financial evaluations: For example, what are the psychosocial benefits of the social cash transfers? This will require qualitative approaches that focus on the less obvious, namely social, effects of cash transfers. Another possibility will be to conduct longitudinal studies that can map out effects and changes in children’s daily lives over time.



  1. Milligan, I., Withington, R., Connelly, G., & Gale, C. (2017). Alternative Child Care and Deinstitutionalisation in Sub- Saharan Africa: Findings of a Desk Review. [Report]. Accessible:
  2. Government of Zimbabwe (2016). National Social Protection Policy Framework for Zimbabwe, Harare. Accessible:
  3.  Manjengwa, J., Feresu, S., and Chimhowu, A. (2012). Understanding poverty, promoting wellbeing and sustainable development – A sample survey of 16 districts of Zimbabwe, Institute of Environmental Studies, Harare. Accessible:,%20Dr.%20Jeanette,%20et%20al.,%20Household%20Consumption%20&%20Poverty%20In%20Zimbabwe..pdf?sequence=1
  4.  UNICEF (2015). Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Zimbabwe: An Update (2011-2014). Accessible:
  5.  Mabvurira, V., Chigevenga, R., Kambarami, F., Chavhi, R., & Nyoni, C. (2017). The realities of children in prostitution in Zimbabwe: a case of Beitbridge and Plumtree border towns, Child abuse research in South Africa, 18(2), 68-76. Accessible:
  6. Dunn, A., and Parry-Williams, J. (2008a). Alternative care for children in Southern Africa: Progress, challenges and future directions, New York: UNICEF. Accessible: