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.