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UNICEF aims to expand subsidy system to reach Mozambique’s most vulnerable children

By Shanta Bloemen

GUARA GUARA, Mozambique, 21 October 2011 – The childhood of Filiphe Luis Marime, 15, ended three years ago when his mother died after a long illness.  He was left responsible for his younger siblings, one of whom was just an infant.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Jonah Fisher reports on efforts by UNICEF and the Mozambique Government to expand a national food subsidy programme to include poor and vulnerable children.  Watch in RealPlayer


After his mother’s death, Filiphe took the small amount of money she had left and followed her instructions to leave the village and their bad luck behind. He crossed the river and started afresh in the village of Guara Guara in Sofala Province, central Mozambique.

Daily survival struggle

He was given a small piece of land that he keeps in meticulous order and with the help of a few neighbours built a small thatched-roof home for his family.  They survive on the maize they grow and the generosity of a local neighbour – a volunteer for the local child protection committee who checks on them on a regular basis.

© UNICEF/2011/Mozambique
The Merime household is made up of four orphaned children. Since the children lost their mother, 15-year-old Filiphe has been taking care of his three siblings. Their household is one of an estimated 24,000 homes in Mozambique made up entirely of children.

Although Mozambique has benefited from two decades of stability and economic growth since the long civil war ended in 1992, many of these economic gains have yet to translate into jobs and income for the poorest.  In many cases inequality is on the rise, especially for the estimated 24,000 child-headed households.

Last year, riots rocked the capital city Maputo, as food and fuel prices escalated and the Government introduced short-term subsidies on the price of basic goods. With 70 per cent of the 23 million people in this Southern African country living on less than $2 a day and 44 per cent of children chronically malnourished, the fear is that the poorest children –  especially those living alone –  are not getting enough support.

What Filiphe and his siblings grow is barely enough to keep them well-nourished and they often rely on one meal a day.  Talk of the future beyond daily survival is tough.  “How can I think of the future when I don’t go to school and have three siblings to feed, clean and see grow up?” asks Filiphe solemnly. Previously a high-performing student, he has not attended school since his mother’s death and now worries he does not have the records of his previous grades to get admitted to his new local school.

A fragile system

It is these types of daily survival challenges that can overwhelm a country’s fragile child protection system. UNICEF is now working with the Government of Mozambique to expand the national food subsidy programme to include poor and vulnerable children, especially children like Filiphe who are responsible for raising other children.

© UNICEF/2011/Mozambique
None of the Marime children are enrolled in school or receive any financial assistance from the government. The two oldest Marime brothers spend their time working in the field growing maize.

Currently only the elderly, adults living with disability and those who are chronically ill can qualify for food subsidies. An estimated 200,000 families benefit from a national social assistance programme started in 1990. The subsidy has since grown to become a major component of the country’s 2007 Social Protection Act and is funded by a number of donors and the Government of Mozambique.

Currently, the Government is looking to expand the subsidy system to target the poorest families in urban areas with food baskets and transport subsidies.  As the country grapples with how to tackle the escalating price of basic food items and the global crisis threatens the country’s donor funding, UNICEF believes that the priority must be on the poorest and most vulnerable children.

Reaching vulnerable children

“Children like Filiphe cannot be forgotten.  We need to make sure that the subsidy system reaches the poorest children and we build a viable system to care, support and protect them,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Mozambique Ana Machaieie. “Unfortunately, the current criteria used by government for the cash transfers does not include children living on their own.”

If steps are not taken, many more children will remain without any kind of financial support, put in a situation where they could be exploited and left without any hope for the future.



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