Forceful mass evictions in Zimbabwe six years ago have left thousands of displaced children without education and even forced some to seek work in the sex industry to support their families, rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The government at the time said the nationwide eviction of 700,000 people from homes and market stalls in urban centers was intended to clear slums. The program was called Operation Murambatsvina, which in the Shona language means "clean out the filth."
Amnesty said in a statement Wednesday that demolished schools were not replaced and adequate schooling was not provided for the children. Many of their parents lost their livelihoods and could no longer pay for school.
That "struck a devastating blow to the lives and dreams of thousands of children," the group said.
Critics said the evictions were politically motivated to disrupt burgeoning urban opposition to President Robert Mugabe ahead of 2005 elections.
The rights group said many of those evicted who were promised plots of land and basic housing are still living in poorly built shacks and plastic shelters without access to sanitation, utilities, roads or public transport.
Children looked for casual work to help feed their families, it said.
Young women interviewed by researchers spoke of deciding to get married because they could no longer go to school, Amnesty said.
The statement quoted one, identified only as Irene, as saying she married at 17.
"I married so I could have someone to provide for me. I did not want to go into sex work like most of the girls who dropped out of school," she said.
Amnesty said demolished settlements had had access to local schools and clinics and displaced families were now far worse off than before.
"It is appalling that a government can get away with making life harder for its poorest and most vulnerable people," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy Africa director, on Wednesday.
In 2005, Zimbabwe held parliamentary elections sharply contested in urban strongholds of Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe's ZANU-PF won that poll with an increased number of parliament seats amid allegations of intimidation and vote rigging.
Tsvangirai denounced that election as a sham.
After disputed and violence-marred presidential and parliamentary elections three years later, regional leaders brokered a power-sharing deal in which Tsvangirai became prime minister in 2009. The shaky coalition has been plagued by disputes and Mugabe has called for fresh elections next year to bring it to an end.
Across Africa, education disruptions have left whole generations in poverty and destitution.