UNICEF Representative in Guinea discusses the situation of children
A young guinean girl at work. Seven guinean children out of ten between the ages of five to twelve years old know the worst forms of work labour.
Question: Can you tell us about the general context of the country?
Answer: With an estimated population of 9.1 million, 50 per cent of it being under 18 years of age, Guinea is one of the poorest countries in Africa.
Despite having ideal natural conditions for the practice of agriculture, conditions for women and children are meager and social development indicators are worsening.
Due to a long period of political instability and poor governance, Guinea has generated several structural constraints that culminated in the breaking of basic social services and systems and reduced quality of life for the majority of its inhabitants.
A political transition started in December 2008, soon after the end of the President Conte’s 24 years reign.
The atmosphere among people in the country remains volatile, but, at the same time, the presidential elections scheduled for December 2009, are a window of opportunity to put issues facing children at center stage.
Q: What are the main issues facing children?
A: In a country where one out of five children dies before their fifth birthday, mostly of preventable causes, child survival is a top priority. In 2008, the child mortality rate was at 146 child deaths for 1,000 live births.
The main direct causes for this concerning figures are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea as well as and HIV/AIDS and malnutrition – associated with 50 per cent of child deaths.
According to latest surveys, an estimated 26 per cent of children under five are presently underweight and 35 per cent suffer from stunted growth or chronic malnutrition.
Efforts to improve access to health care are stymied by management and logistical constraints, dysfunctional health systems and shortages of medicines, vaccines and essential supplies at hospitals and health care facilities.
Maternal and newborn health is also an issue. Despite progress, efforts towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal 5 are insufficient. The maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, at 980 maternal deaths for 100,000 live births.
The limited proportion of people with access to safe drinking water is unacceptable and jeopardize child health and development. Only 70 per cent of the population has access to improved water sources.
Proper sanitation also remains a predicament, with hygienic latrines being available to only 19 per cent of the population. However, the mobilization to respond to the 2007 cholera outbreak (8,546 notified cases of cholera) has allowed for some improvements in access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
Q: How is poverty affecting children?
A: In Guinea, as with any country suffering from a development or humanitarian crisis, poverty is the main catalyst for child suffering. "Immunization efforts have been particularly successful and under-five death related to the main killing diseases are decreasing."
Among the 4.6 million children living in the country, over 600,000 work or beg to provide for their needs.
Within this group, 420,000 are orphans, with 35,000 losing their parents to the AIDS epidemic.
HIV/AIDS prevalence is currently at 1.5 per cent, with approximately 93,000 people living with HIV.
A feminization of the infection is observed, with 1.9 per cent of women between 15-49 years old living with AIDS and 0.9 per cent of men of the same age group.
Another serious problem to be tackled is the low rate of birth registration (38 per cent), although there have been signs of improvement, far too many children have “no identity” and face the risk not to be denied of other rights such as education, immunization and protection.
Violence and abuse towards women and children are also recurrent concerns. The practice of female circumcision persists and is performed on 96 per cent of women in Guinea.
Q: What about the situation in terms of access to education ?
A: Access to primary education has significantly improved. The gross school enrolment rate increased from 60 to 77 per cent from 2000 to 2004.
Nonetheless, girls face socio-cultural obstacles to education. Only 70 per cent of Guinean girls were enrolled in primary school in 2004.
The causes are directly related to inadequate infrastructure and personnel planning, small education budgets and the lack of school textbooks and teaching materials.
Q: Can you tell us about positive development in addressing the needs of children?
A: If the overall situation in Guinea requires improvement for women and children, it is undisputable that some progress has been made in the last few years.
The number of child deaths has decreased by 37% between 1990 and 2008, from a child mortality rate of 231‰ to 146‰.
Improvements in immunization coverage is one of the factor that has allowed for such significant progress. However, 14 per cent of children have not been immunized at all.
Also, UNICEF has been working with the Government to adopt a national protocol for the management of acute malnutrition.
This has given allowed for the training of more than 170 health agents on methods to prevent and address severe and moderate acute malnutrition which affects thousands of children.
I am confident that the work undertaken by UNICEF to put children at the center of the development policy, budgets and programmes will bear fruit, notably in reducing child deaths due to malaria,
HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and addressing the disparity in access to education for girls and boys..
Guinea is going through a period of transition. The support of UNICEF and its partners is instrumental to ensure a better future for children in Guinea.
For more information please contact:
Michele Akan Badarou, UNICEF Guinea, tel. +224 64 31 67 89, email: firstname.lastname@example.org