Progress and challenges
While significant steps have been taken to improve the legal framework for the protection of the rights of children in Mozambique, child rights violations are a growing concern in a number of areas.
Trafficking children to exploit them as sex-workers and domestic workers in the region is a growing concern. A report by the International Organisation on Migration estimates that approximately one thousand children and women are trafficked from Mozambique to South Africa every year for the purpose of exploitative labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Violence, exploitation and abuse
Sexual exploitation and abuse against children and women also occur at home and in the workplace. In a study done by the Ministry of Women and Social Action, as many as 34 per cent of women surveyed reported having been beaten and ten per cent of the respondents reported to have been subjected to some form of sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse and harassment is also a problem in schools. Case studies suggest that 8 per cent of primary school children have been sexually abused and another 35 per cent have experienced sexual harassment.
Mozambique has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage. Specific cultural practices where children are considered ready for marriage after initiation rites contribute to a high rate of early marriages.
Data from the 2003 Demographic and Health survey indicates that 18 per cent of young women aged 20-24 had been married before the age of 15 and 56 per cent before the age of 17.
Child marriage compromises a girl’s right to education and health. In Mozambique, 36.9 per cent of married girls aged 15 to 19 have no education. Teenage pregnancy and childbirth is associated with poor health outcomes for both the mother and child.
In Mozambique, hazardous labour activities involving children are mostly related to farm work either in the cotton or tobacco industry.
However, most working children take up unpaid work for the family. An estimated 22 per cent of children between 5 and 14 are engaged in child labour.
Overall boys and girls are involved in equal measures, with the exception of domestic work where girls make up a larger proportion of the affected children.
Children without identity
In recent years, Mozambique has made great strides in increasing access to birth registration services across the country. A national Plan of Action on Birth Registration was developed in 2004 to accelerate birth registration activities and strengthen the routine birth registration system nationwide.
Before the plan was put into action, only 6 per cent of children under five years had a birth certificate. Since then, a significant progress has been made. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2008 shows that 31 per cent of children under the age of five were registered, 39 per cent in the urban areas and 28 per cent in the rural areas.
Children in conflict with the law
A study conducted on children in conflict with the law found that at least 25 per cent of all prison inmates interviewed were under the age of 18, and 18 per cent were under the age of 16.
Children in conflict with the law are mainly male, poor, orphaned or separated from their families and living on the streets. The prison conditions they endure are in direct violation of their rights. Children inmates often share rooms with adults, exposing them to abuse and violence.
Mozambique has an estimated 1.2 million orphaned children, of which 350,000 have lost their parents to AIDS.
Orphaned children face a number of vulnerabilities and risks, such sexual exploitation and abuse, hazardous child labour, early sexual debut and marriage, poor school attendance and performance and poor physical, emotional and mental health. Children living in child-headed households are in a particularly precarious situation.
What is being done
Despite these worrying statistics, important progress has been made to protect the rights of children and improve the situation of children and women who are victims of violence, abuse and exploitation.
A major achievement is the approval of the Children’s Act in 2008. The new legislation reflects a commitment on the part of the Government to provide a legal framework for the protection of children, in accordance with the principles established in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Another key area of UNICEF’s work is the support provided to the Ministry of the Interior in the creation of more than 200 specialised Police Centres nationwide for children and women who are victims of violence, abuse and exploitation.
These support centres provide a safe space for victims to report incidents of violence to the Police and to access social services.
UNICEF also works with the Ministry of Justice to improve the response of the juvenile justice system to children in conflict with the law, which has led to the creation of six Children’s Court sections since 2007.
Orphaned and vulnerable children
UNICEF works with the Ministry of Women and Social Action and other partners to scale up support for vulnerable children who fall outside of any care or support systems.
UNICEF’s work in this area is guided by the national Plan of Action for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children, which outlines the main principles of intervention, targets and priority actions that have been agreed upon by all major governmental sectors, civil society, and multi-lateral partners.
The plan also sets out a set of six basic services for orphaned and vulnerable children: education, health care, material/financial support (including access to poverty certificates), nutritional support, psycho-social support and legal support (including access to birth certificates).
UNICEF supports the Government and non-governmental organisations to provide direct service delivery of these basic services to orphaned and vulnerable children. This work is carried out in all provinces but with a focus on the central region of the country, which is home to over 60 per cent of all Mozambicans living with HIV or AIDS.
UNICEF is also assisting in the expansion of a social protection programme which provides cash transfers and in-kind material support to the most vulnerable households. Over the past two years, the number of direct beneficiaries has increased from 90,000 to 120,000.
In addition, the scale of support provided to each household has tripled in value, leading to a substantial increase in the purchasing power of vulnerable families.
As part of the National Action Plan for Birth Registration, UNICEF supports the Ministry of Justice to accelerate birth registration activities and strengthen the routine birth registration system.
The programme includes a strong community-based social mobilisation strategy to raise awareness among families and communities of the importance of birth registration, with a specific focus on the registration of orphaned and vulnerable children. Over the past two years, 4.2 million children have received birth certificates.