Poverty, exclusion among urban children in Zimbabwe
By Richard Nyamanhindi
For many, the image of a malnourished child, a child living in miserable conditions and lacking access to basic social services, has a rural backdrop. Now, with a net increase in the urban population, this picture is also increasingly set in most urban areas of Zimbabwe.
According to the 2012 census data, 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s population is under 15 years and around 34 percent live in urban areas — close to half of the total children in Zimbabwe. They live in major cities such as Harare and Bulawayo and in provincial towns, and in peri-urban areas which are still perceived as predominantly rural.
Urban children are generally considered to be better off than rural children — healthier, better housed, and better educated and with access to a wider range of services and opportunities. In theory, cities can indeed offer these advantages, but the reality is that an increasing number of urban children live in deep poverty, their rights neglected, their needs unmet, their prospects damaged by conditions that threaten their health and undermine their development.
As recently noted in a 2014 report by the University of Zimbabwe (Institute of Environmental Studies) and UNICEF entitled The Multi-Dimensional Nature of Urban Poverty among Children in Zimbabwe — over 25 percent of children in urban Zimbabwe — are living in poverty and 50 percent of these are in extreme poverty.
There are at least two reasons why urban children should be expected to enjoy greater opportunities than rural children as regards survival and development. The first is that urban areas provide significant economies of scale and proximity for the delivery of health care and education, piped water and emergency services and the provision for good quality sanitation.
The second is that many cities have a more prosperous economic base than rural areas, providing higher average incomes for large sections of the population and greater possibilities for governments or the private sector to fund basic services.
However, the lack of investment in infrastructure, basic social services and waste management in the past decade in most urban centres means an urban concentration of children and their families is increasingly becoming a serious disadvantage to the survival of children.
As highlighted in the Multi-Dimensional Nature of Urban Poverty among Children in Zimbabwe Report, when infrastructure and services are lacking, urban settlements are among the world’s most life-threatening environments especially for children.For instance, as noted in the urban poverty study cited above, 40 percent of children in Harare do not have access to a functioning flushing toilet, 21 percent suffer from untreated diarrhoea, 31 percent do not have access to safe drinking water and 32 percent of those between 6-24 months age group experience stunting.
Clearly, effective programmes for poor and
excluded children depend on an understanding of these differences.
Addressing the problems outlined through the Multi-Dimensional Nature of Urban Poverty among Children in Zimbabwe Report is a significant challenge, yet there are hundreds of precedents, many supported by development partners, that demonstrate how much can be achieved, even with limited resources, to promote local governance in favour of children’s rights and to translate the commitments arising from the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at the local levels.
However, if local government initiatives are to be effective, action and support at the national level are crucial. National action to promote local governance for children’s rights includes the ratification and implementation of the most relevant human rights conventions, especially the CRC; the operationalisation of constitutional frameworks that protect human rights; the establishment of participatory democratic institutions that promote the inclusion of children such as the Junior Parliament and the promotion of a process of decentralisation of responsibilities.