A health centre. The road to ensuring health services for all children is still long. “[W]e treat on average 80 patients a day,” says one of the few paediatricians in Mozambique. “That's too much work for only one nurse."
By Patricia Nakell
MAPUTO, Mozambique, 10 December 2013 – UNICEF and Magnum Photos have unveiled The Rights Responsibility, a collection of multimedia films and photographs by five world-renowned Magnum photographers that shine light on the challenges that children face in Mozambique today.
Unique collaboration, stark perspective
With its favourable investment environment, Mozambique has recorded significant economic growth in recent years as large foreign investments have poured in. Yet, Mozambique is the third least developed country in the world. In the shadow of this economic boom, 230 children under the age of 5 die every day of such preventable diseases as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
With 60 per cent of the population living on less than US$1.25 a day, more than half of whom are children, life for many is a struggle for survival.
The films and photographs take viewers on a voyage through Mozambique, through life in the shadow of the economic boom – where schools exist but quality education often does not, where disability can condemn a child to misery, where a health worker faces an army of patients every day, where a girl is likely to be married or a mother by 18, where children’s voices are rarely heard despite their constituting a majority, where safe water is increasingly a luxury.
A girl attends primary school. Though 95 per cent of children are enrolled in school in Mozambique, only 60 per cent of children complete a basic education.
System for life
“In this ward, we treat, on average, 80 patients a day,” says Dr. Ermelinda Gomes, one of the few paediatricians in Mozambique. “That’s too much work for only one nurse.”
With just one doctor for every 35,000 persons, and with an average of 25 km separating patients from their nearest health centre, the health system in Mozambique is inadequate. Mozambique faces such public health challenges such as malaria and HIV.
Children’s lives, in particular, depend on a functioning health system. Magnum photographer Eli Reed’s film ‘A System for Life’ offers a view of the health system in Mozambique. Mr. Reed visits hospitals and medical warehouses and speaks to mothers, doctors and nurses.
Too young to marry
“I think that we should all wait for the right moment, at least until our 20s, before we get pregnant,” says Alice Velemo Nhancume, 15, who has a 4-month-old baby. Alice is featured in another film of Mr. Reed’s, ‘Too Young to Marry’.
Small towns in Mozambique are growing fast, but, in some areas, rapid expansion has outpaced the capacity of local governments to provide essential services, such as access to adequate water and sanitation facilities.
Girls in Mozambique are likely to be married or mothers before their eighteenth birthdays. Child marriage “divorces girls from opportunity”, according to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It often disrupts a girl’s education and can have severe implications for the health and prospects of young mothers and their children.
Young girls can also miss out on school for other reasons. It is reportedly not uncommon for male teachers to give young girls passing grades in return for sexual favours. Silenced by fear and not knowing where or how to seek help, girls may drop out. Reporting is minimal, and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice for their crimes.
Quality, not quantity
There have been some positive developments in education in Mozambique, which Chris Steele-Perkins highlights in a film on the education system.
Over the past two decades, there has been a considerable increase in the number of schools, and enrolment stands at 95 per cent. However, only 60 per cent of children complete their basic education.
Wearing her baby, Rustina, on her back, Isabel takes her son Idlio to school. Idlio has mental and physical disabilities. Children with disabilities in Mozambique are at greater risk of not getting an education.
Supported by UNICEF, child-friendly schools are helping to retain students so that they complete the years of education critical to children’s reaching their potential. Child-friendly schools are designed to create an environment around children that is safe, healthy and conducive to learning. “Before, pupils in the classroom were mere objects,” says Angelina Avelino, a director of a child-friendly school. “Pupils now get involved and participate actively.”
Water and sanitation
Growth can cause new problems to surface, as photographer Ian Berry discovers in his film on water and sanitation.
Small towns in Mozambique are growing fast, in part because of rapid economic development, as well as migration and natural population growth.
But, rapid expansion has outpaced local governments’ capacity to provide essential services, such as access to adequate water and sanitation facilities, leaving outdated infrastructures severely overwhelmed. This phenomenon is seen across much of Mozambique. Consequences for the population, especially children, can be severe.
For example, “Because there is not a lot of water, children go to the river – and this puts our health at risk,” explains community councilor Domingo Sarmento Collette.
“They need dignity”
In ‘Invisible Children’, Patrick Zachmann explores disability in Mozambique. Mr. Zachmann meets children and their families, as well as activists such as Ricardo Moresse, head of the Mozambican Forum of Disability Associations, who is working to build the country’s capacity for inclusive education and services.
By empowering children to create radio and television programming for other children, the Participatory Child Rights Media Network is providing a platform for the country’s young citizens to make their voices heard.
Life for children living with disabilities can be challenging in Mozambique. All too often, children with disabilities fall victim to discrimination and stigma. They might be kept at home or in an institution, perhaps receiving no education at all.
“These children don’t need charity – they need dignity,” says Mr. Moresse.
Hearing the voices of the children of Mozambique is critical to addressing the issues that face them. Yet, although more than half of the population is under 18 years old, children are the silent majority that is rarely heard, including in matters that affect them.
The Participatory Child Rights Media Network, which Magnum photographer Alex Webb highlights, is ending the silence with programming by children for children on more than 50 radio and television stations across the country. Some 1,400 children are involved in the network, which mainly attracts a young audience, but also tries to engage adults in debates and discussions.
“I have learned many new things,” says Delfina Lopes Zeca, a presenter at a child radio programme. “Thanks to my experience, I am able to tell other children about their rights, that they are equal, that they play an important role in society.”