Child protection

For every child, dignity

Protecção da criança e casamentos prematuros em Moçambique
UNICEF Moçambique/2017/Ruth Ayisi

Child protection situation in Mozambique

Despite recent socio-economic progress in Mozambique, 48 per cent of all children live in absolute poverty, which makes these children particularly vulnerable. Moreover, some of these children lose their first line of protection – their parents. Children can lose parental protection, care and affection for many reasons, including poverty, emergencies, as well as domestic violence, family breakup, harmful traditional practices/social norms, and weak family competencies. Children with disabilities and girls are particularly vulnerable due to deep-rooted cultural attitudes regarding gender roles. 

Orphans are also amongst the most vulnerable in Mozambique, where the number of orphans who have lost one or both parents is estimated at 2 million. Another 700,000 children are at risk of being abandoned due to their caregivers’ old age, HIV in the family and/or deteriorating socio-economic circumstances. The poverty and orphan crisis also contributes to exploitative child labour. According to the 2011 Mozambique Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 24 per cent of children aged 5–14 are engaged in some form of work to earn income for themselves or their families. 

Girls are also particularly vulnerable, especially orphaned girls. They are likely to be exposed to risky behaviours including transactional sex or child marriage. Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, affecting almost one in every two girls, and has the second highest rate in the eastern and southern African sub-region. Some 48 per cent of women in Mozambique aged 20–24 were first married or in a union before the age of 18, and 14 per cent before the age of 15 (DHS, 2011). 

Whatever their background, however, girls are particularly likely to suffer abuse and violence. According to the 2011 DHS, the incidence of violence against women and children is perceived as high, with one in every three girls or women aged 15–49 reporting that they have been victims of violence at a certain point in their life. The type of violence is mainly sexual, often taking place at home or in a community setting. The perpetrators are mostly male family members, for example an older brother, father, uncle or stepfather. Despite progress in this area, impunity for perpetrators remains an issue in addressing violence against children and women.

Lastly, another significantly vulnerable group are children who come into contact with the law, either as victims or witnesses of crime, alleged offenders or third parties. They often lack adequate protection, as multi-sectoral response and coordination between welfare and justice sector actors are still relatively weak to adequately handle juvenile cases.

UNICEF support focuses on all these vulnerable children, as all children are entitled to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

Programme priorities 2017–2020

The long-term vision of the Child Protection programme is that by 2020, the poorest and most marginalised children benefit from a more effective child and social protection system (cash and care) nationwide.

To help realise this child protection vision, UNICEF supports a holistic protective environment of policies and laws, regulations, formal and informal services, and the promotion of good family practices. 

Thus, the programme of support has to take into account the social and economic factors in Mozambique that make children vulnerable and, at the same time, explore ways to reduce children’s vulnerability to violence and abuse and enhance their resilience. The goal is to boost children’s physical, intellectual and emotional development and empower all children to benefit from the country’s social and economic development.  

One priority is to accelerate birth registration by strengthening the implementation of a digitized civil registration system. Aside from being the first acknowledgement of a child’s existence, birth registration helps to ensure that children are counted and have access to basic services such as health, social security and education. Recording the age of a child also helps to protect them from the risk of child labour, being treated as adults in the justice system, or being conscripted into the armed forces, as well as child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation. In sum, birth registration is a child’s ‘passport to protection’. 

Ending violence against children and child marriage is another priority. There is a huge need to raise awareness in communities about the prevalence of abuse and violence as well as to empower community members, families and children to denounce and address such violations. Child protection systems at all levels, in communities and nationally, will be supported to provide an effective response.

Poverty is a major driver that leads to children being denied their basic rights, making them extremely vulnerable to abuse. UNICEF, therefore, has prioritized supporting the provision of social protection for children living in poverty and/or suffering from the impact of recurrent disasters that have hit Mozambique. 
Strengthening justice services for children is another priority area. This includes the development of child-sensitive procedures for children who come into contact with the law as victims, witnesses, or in conflict with the justice system. 

In order to support these priorities, UNICEF has assisted with the operationalization of three recently endorsed government policies: the national Child-Sensitive Social Protection Strategy, the National Strategy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Marriage and the Alternative Care Regulations. Additionally, UNICEF has provided technical assistance on the costed national action plan for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics. 

The strategies will be informed by building an evidence base to assess the existing capacity and gaps across various institutions.  The aim is to ensure the development of an integrated system that addresses multiple vulnerabilities of the child. Therefore, services will be interconnected to respond to the holistic needs of the child and his or her family. The implementation of an integrated case management system is a core element of programming.

The main areas of support are:

Registo de Nascimento em Moçambique CRVS
UNICEF Moçambique/2019

The roll out of a Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system with the goal of making it operational nationwide.

This will be achieved through a two-pronged approach: continuous support to the regular birth registration programme in combination with the roll-out of the digitized registration system. UNICEF support includes training and capacity building of civil registration personnel and health staff on revised legislation and the use of a modernized eCRVS, based on the newly-produced training manuals. It also includes Communication for Development (C4D) strategies for increased awareness and advocacy in communities, conservatories and health centres.

UNICEF Protecção Social e da Crianças em Moçambique
UNICEF Moçambique/2019

A national child-sensitive social protection strategy operationalized in six target provinces.

This will be achieved by linking the complementary cash and care programmatic elements defined in the recently approved National Social Protection Strategy. It also involves supporting the design and implementation of child grants with a digitized information and case management system, and the implementation of the Alternative Care Regulations for children who are deprived temporarily or permanently from biological parental care.

UNICEF violência e abuso contra crianças em Moçambique
UNICEF Moçambique/2019

A multi-sectoral collaboration between government and civil society to prevent and address violence against children, child marriage and other harmful practices. 

Addressing violence against children and transforming social norms and practices that are potentially harmful for children requires engagement and collaboration of a wide range of diverse actors, including line ministries, justice system actors, civil society, traditional and religious leaders, media, youth and adolescents. UNICEF will support establishment and/or strengthening of multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms at the national level and in focus provinces to implement the National Strategy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Marriage and effectively respond to violence against children. 

maior acesso de crianças vulneráveis e a retenção de raparigas adolescentes no ensino primário
UNICEF Moçambique/2019

Justice services to respond to children in contact or in conflict with the law.

UNICEF works closely with all actors of the justice system – including the police, judiciary, prosecution, forensic medicine, and legal aid providers – to improve access to justice for child victims of violence and abuse, as well as for children who come into conflict with the law. Following the adoption of Alternative Care Regulations in 2015, which provide a framework for statutory response to care, protection and placement of children, an opportunity has also been created for UNICEF to support institutional capacity development in this crucial area.
Along with capacity building of justice sector institutions and development of child-friendly procedures and practices, UNICEF also works to promote awareness among children and communities about their rights, and strengthens avenues for reporting and referring cases, including through support to the National Child Helpline. Provision of legal aid to access the system will constitute another major component of the work, building on partnerships with government and civil society providers. 

Child marriage ends dreams and threatens health

O casamento prematuro desfaz sonhos e ameaça a saúde
UNICEF Moçambique/2017/Ruth Ayisi

Lavela Manuela did not intend to get pregnant nor marry while she was still at school, but she continued to study – at least at first – before her pregnancy began to show. Then, she stopped attending classes until she had a visit from the president of the school council, Paulinho Macalia, who persuaded her to return to school. 

Although 17, Lavela was only in Grade 6 and still had one more year left of primary school. She had only started school at the age of 10, when she went to live with her aunt. Her mother, who has a chronic illness, never sent her to school. 

Being six months pregnant, Lavela concedes she was apprehensive to be back in the classroom. “I thought the other children would tease me. Yet I wanted to study as my dream is to be a teacher. I like to play with children,” she says, smiling.  It is the only time she smiles during the interview, and the smile vanishes as quick as it came. 

Lavela explains that once she moved out of her aunt’s home last year to live with her husband, Celestinho, 23, she dropped out of school never to return, despite the efforts of the local school council. 

And she lost her baby. Lavela had gone into labour prematurely. As the nearest health centre is 12 kilometres away and the family had no transport, they called a traditional midwife to deliver the baby at home. Lavela never attended any antenatal clinics and did not seek medical advice after losing her baby. “I didn’t know about that,” says Lavela simply.

Her days are now spent farming and carrying out heavy household chores, such as fetching wood and water in her remote rural village in Napai, some 64 kilometres from the provincial capital, Nampula.

Lavela’s story is not unusual. The northern province of Nampula has some of the highest child marriage rates, with many girls marrying even earlier than Lavela at the onset of puberty, soon after traditional initiation rites have been performed. Nationally, according to the 2011 Demographic Health Survey (DHS), almost half (48 per cent) of women aged 20– 24 reported that they were married before the age of 18.

“Child marriage (formal and informal unions) is a fundamental violation of human rights,” says Edina Kozma, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist. “Often it means denying children the right to education, to play and just to be children. Early pregnancy can also lead to serious health problems or even result in the death of infants and/or mothers.” 

Custa 25 mil doláres americanos para garantir a prestação de serviços de polícia amigos da criança devidamente treinados e equipados através de balcões únicos de atendimento a nível distrital para uma população média de 100.000 pessoas.
UNICEF/MOZA2012-00115/Eli Reed/Magnum Photos

It costs US$25,000 to ensure provision of adequately trained and equipped child-friendly police services through one-stop centres at district level for an average population of 100,000.

Kozma explains that supporting the government’s efforts to end child marriage is, therefore, one of UNICEF’s top priorities. “We’re working at all levels with the government and community leaders, including religious leaders, to change people’s perceptions and behaviour. This includes empowering girls and women economically and also creating conditions that allow them to have a say in the critical decisions that affect their lives.”

Macalia, the president of the school council who had initially convinced Lavela to return to school, concedes that keeping girls in education is a challenge, especially if they get pregnant. “I told her (Lavela) she must continue with her studies, and I talked to others to motivate her.”

Lavela also had support from her aunt, Delfina Paissa. “I put her in school as I had hoped she could get a job later.”  Yet, Paissa had also influenced Lavela to marry as she said “the man responsible for the pregnancy needed to take responsibility.”

At Lavela’s school, although gender parity exists in the first grades, the gender gap widens by Grade 7. In 2017, for example, in Grade 1, there were 253 boys compared to 273 girls, yet in Grade 7, there were 18 boys and only 5 girls. 

Eugenia Paulo, a teacher at the school, says she often talks with female students, encouraging them not to marry before they finish their studies. But, she continues, many factors work against them. Paulo points out that even those who want to finish primary school and continue to secondary school are often unable as there is no secondary school nearby, and many children do not have relatives or people with whom they can stay and their parents cannot afford alternative accommodation. “Parents also put pressure on their children and say it’s not worth them continuing their studies as they will not find a job at the end.”

Cardoso Armando, from the local government department, Social Action, highlights the need to adapt initiation rites. “The girls learn during the rites ceremony that after their first menses they are ready for a sexual relationship. These messages encourage them to experiment, they get pregnant and then they are forced to marry.”

Custa Menos de 1 dolár americano para registar o nascimento de uma criança.
UNICEF/MOZA2012-00669/Mark Lehn

It costs LESS THAN US$1 to register the birth of a child.

As far as Lavela is concerned, she seems to have accepted that her marriage means her youth is over. Although Lavela says she would like to have an opportunity to study again, she is not hopeful. Nor is her husband, Celestinho, 23, who had to drop out of school at the age of 12 when his parents moved. He explains that he would have had to trek four hours to and from school each day. Asked whether he thinks it would be possible for either him or Lavela to study again, he thinks for a moment, then says softly, “I don't think we have the right conditions at home to return to school.”

Child protection in Mozambique at a glance

Households living below the poverty line 46%
Children not living with biological parents 2 million
Child labour 22%
Violence against women and girls (15 - 49) 1 in 3
Child marriage prevalence (<18 years)     48%
Children under 5 whose births are registered (2011) 48%