Child poverty hurts the nation
By Samson Muradzikwa (Chief of Social Policy at UNICEF Zimbabwe)
In a 2013 report, the World Bank estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide lived in extreme poverty, the majority in Asia and Africa. This is a staggering number and indicates the pervasive inequalities between and within countries across the globe. Although countries may have been recording impressive economic growth, to have 400 million children stuck in poverty means something is fundamentally wrong!
It goes without saying that children are at higher risk of poverty and deprivation.
Girls and boys experience all forms of poverty more acutely than adults because of their vulnerability due to age and dependency. In addition, lost opportunities in childhood often cannot be regained in life. The UN Convention on Rights of the Child says all children have the right to a core minimum level of well-being; including the right to nutrition, basic education, survival and protection.
But poverty denies children of these entitlements and this should concern all of us. According to ZIMSTAT’s 2012 poverty report, one in four children in Zimbabwe aged between zero and 17 years were living in households considered to be in extreme consumption poverty, below the Food Poverty Line (FPL).
About one in two were living in poor households, with per capita consumption expenditures above the FPL but below the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL).
One in five were living in non-poor households, with per capita consumption expenditures above the TCPL. Thus overall, 78 percent of Zimbabwe’s children were living in consumption poverty (extremely poor and poor).
Are we doing enough for our children?
Government has over the years joined the international community in ratifying various treaties that safeguard the rights of women and children. As required by the Constitution, these treaties have been incorporated into domestic law.
The major gaps, however, are largely due to lack of adequate financing and effective implementation to produce the desired results. The absence of an overarching child rights policy for Zimbabwe remains a major challenge.
The National Plan of Action for Children has not been updated since 1992. In addition, there currently exists no comprehensive social protection policy in Zimbabwe. Indeed, Government prioritises the social sectors of education and health in the National Budget but the bulk of these resources support recurrent expenditures.
Moving forward, some areas for Zimbabwe to consider in addressing child poverty include the need for an inclusive, job-creating, dynamic and sound economy, continued domestication of international and regional commitments on women and children combined with effective implementation, and enhanced partnerships at all levels to support implementation of the child survival strategy, including formalising service contracts with mission health institutions and the private sector.
A key consideration is to enhance synergies on child protection between various ministries and sectors, scale-up of on-budget social protection initiatives, with complementary support from off-budget initiatives.
Local authorities, particularly, RDCs, religious bodies and faith-based organisations, donors and NGOs, the private sector, and the community and the extended family systems need to remain key partners in the provision of social protection.
The rights and special needs of children are often placed below other priorities at all levels leading to lost opportunities in terms of human and economic development. Child rights and the challenge of balancing childcare and work responsibilities are too often seen as marginal issues in development debates and practice.
Therefore the central role of childhood in shaping individual capabilities and the importance of stability and economic progress for families to a country’s development remain overlooked.
Child poverty should capture both monetary and non-monetary vulnerabilities, both social and economic inequities. We need to go beyond just measuring monetary poverty to focusing on the multi-dimensional nature of child poverty, a process that is currently underway in Zimbabwe and globally.