The third least developed country in the world, Mozambique has been recording some of the world’s highest rates of economic growth in recent years, leading many to believe a major transformation awaits. As Mozambique prepares to take a big leap forward, will children continue to be left behind?
Every day, 320 children under the age of 5 die in Mozambique due to entirely preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea. With a majority of the population living on less than a dollar a day, more than half of whom are children, life for the deprived is a relentless struggle for survival.
At the same time, Mozambique continues to draw major investors to vast natural gas and coal reserves, described as “an embarrassment of riches”, and though hard to exploit, expectations are the country will eventually be propelled out of poverty.
UNICEF and Magnum Photos take us on a unique voyage through Mozambique, introducing us to realities and destinies rarely seen or told, of life in the shadow of the economic boom, where schools exist but quality education often not, where disability continues to condemn a child to life-long misery, where a health worker faces an army of patients every day, where a girl is likely to be married or a mother by 18, where children’s voices are rarely heard despite constituting a majority, and where safe water is a luxury most can’t afford.
To Speak To Be Heard
I like disseminating our rights, our duties, so that children aren't molested, so that they know the rights and duties they have.
Participation is a human right, enshrined in Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and includes for children the right to expression and to active involvement in decision-making in matters that concern them. It requires information sharing and dialogue between children and adults, based on mutual respect and power sharing. Genuine participation gives children the power to shape both the process and outcome. But fulfilling the right to participation poses numerous challenges, from social norms to economic barriers and lack of political will to engage meaningfully with young people.
The Participatory Child Rights Media Network in Mozambique provides a space for children, who comprise more than half the country’s population, to come together and produce programmes that promote and discuss rights, issues, and priorities that impact their lives. At community radio stations, Radio Mozambique, and TV Mozambique, around 1400 kids have produced peer-to-peer programmes that reach out to other kids, but that also engage adults in debates and discussions on sometimes difficult issues, such as abuse in schools.
The children and young people fortunate enough to have access to the activities and spaces created by the Network and other participatory spaces witness an often remarkable transformation. They have a better understanding of their rights and form a strong commitment to civic processes. They find a channel to speak up and out on matters that affect them. They are more confident in standing up to peer or family pressure and are often able to negotiate out of harmful situations, such as unsafe sex, domestic violence and work instead of school.
More needs to be done to expand and consolidate the results of successful participation interventions, extending the right to more children and young people to help define and develop the future that is ultimately theirs.
Child Friendly Schools
Before, pupils in the classroom were mere objects. Pupils now get involved and participate actively.
While 9 out of 10 children in Mozambique today are enrolled in primary school, only 6 of them complete their education. More schools are needed, but it’s the quality of education that requires the most urgent attention.
Quality education in a child-friendly school begins with a well-trained teacher, who can create an effective and inclusive classroom, introduce the latest teaching methods, and make sure children don’t drop out. The physical environment, from the design of the classroom to the materials used to build it, is also central to improving the learning experience, as is promoting the physical and emotional well-being of children.
The Child-Friendly Schools initiative in Mozambique models an integrated approach to education that includes water and hygiene, health, social protection, and participation, and urgently needs scaling up. The principal goal is to ensure that all schools in Mozambique become child-friendly learning environments with minimum quality standards that promote and protect the human rights of the country’s children.
A System For Life
In this ward, we treat on average 80 patients a day. That's too much work for only one nurse.
With just one doctor for every 35,000 persons, and with the nearest health center at 25 kilometers’ distance on average, the health system in Mozambique continues to face challenges in addressing the health needs of the country’s population, considering the major public health threats such as malaria and HIV and AIDS.
Children’s lives in particular depend on the strength of the health system. With limited qualified human resources on the ground and with a disproportionately small number of health centres, service delivery needs to be strengthened.
For children to receive satisfactory and relevant health services, key programs must be fully financed, needed medicines and drugs must not run out of stock, rigorous systems to collect and analyse data must be in place, and political support must exist on all levels to make sure the population’s health is properly attended to.
UNICEF works on strengthening the health system, but interventions need to be scaled up to reach a maximum number of children, including programs dealing with behaviour change and social norms, without which the health of children in Mozambique will continue to be compromised.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Children in Mozambique
Because there is not a lot of water, children go to the river and this puts our health at risk.
Like in most of the developing world, small towns in Mozambique are growing fast. This is in part thanks to rapid economic growth, as well as migration and natural population growth. But rapid expansion has outpaced local governments’ capacity to provide essential services, such as access to adequate water and sanitation facilities, leaving outdated infrastructures severely overwhelmed. This phenomenon is seen across much of Mozambique today, and has considerable consequences for the population, especially children.
The water and sanitation challenge in rapidly growing towns touches households and schools, health centres and hospitals, and, coupled with poor waste management and inadequate hygiene practices, is leading to disease, pollution, increased healthcare costs, and lost productivity.
With flagging interest from the donor community, which traditionally favours rural or large urban areas, small towns often fall in between, struggling to fund their development plans.
And yet, with intelligent and proactive policies, the problem is entirely avoidable. By virtue of their smaller size and lower population density, towns offer opportunities for cost-effective interventions that could greatly improve the lives and health of millions of children.
In a final push towards Millennium Development Goal 7c, UNICEF is working with partners to enable hundreds of thousands of people access to safe water and sanitation, including school children.
These children don’t need charity, they need dignity.
Invisible Children explores the disability challenge in Mozambique, and meets children and their families, as well as activists such as Ricardo Moresse, head of the Mozambican Forum of Disability Associations, who is working to build the country’s capacity for inclusive education and services.
Mozambique ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012, yet everyday life for persons with disabilities remains woefully precarious, especially for children. Education is not a given here, with access an issue even for able-bodied children. Just as crucially, the misconception prevails that a child with a disability is not at all suited for education. All too often they are kept at home or in an institution, receiving no education at all.
Children with disabilities frequently fall victim to stigma and discrimination, fed by misconceptions, superstitions and the common belief that they are a punishment or a curse on their family.
Like all of us, children with disabilities need love, support and protection. They need to be treated with dignity and respect. But until these basic needs are met, children with disabilities in Mozambique will continue to be invisible.
UNICEF has launched a 2-year project integrating education, child protection, and communication for development, and is an important first step towards ensuring that children with disabilities in Mozambique fully realize their right to basic education and an inclusive environment.
Too Young To Marry
I think that we should all wait for the right moment, at least until our 20s, before we get pregnant.
Child marriage is a form of violence. In Mozambique more than half of girls are married before turning 18.
Reports confirm that 38% of teenagers are already mothers or pregnant with their first child. At school, it is not uncommon for teachers to give passing grades in return for sexual favours. Silenced by fear and not knowing where or how to seek help, girls often drop out of school.
In Mozambique, communities often accept child abuse and a culture of silence prevails. Reporting is minimal, with sexual abuse for example usually resolved at family- or community-level, preventing perpetrators from being brought to justice or sent to jail. Child victims themselves rarely have access to adequate health and social services.
All this will have to change.
In the fight against child marriage, UNICEF is helping children access legal and medical aid, training teachers, physicians, police officers and judges, and raising awareness through schools, religious groups and community radios.
But more needs to be done, most urgently, on the response side. Interventions that help push more cases of violence against children through to the justice system, so that they are properly tried in courts of law, need urgent scale-up.