Child poverty in Zim: A call to action

Samson Muradzikwa Our Children, Our Future
Talent Rimayi (not her real name), a vendor on the city centre streets of Harare and mother of three, did not have a happy childhood. Neither is she having an easy adulthood.

Born to an unemployed father and mother, her family struggled to put a simple meal on the table.

At the tender age of 13, her HIV-positive father fell ill and died. When she was 15 her mother encouraged her to get pregnant by her boyfriend and get married in return for lobola and financial support.

Her marriage was characterised by poverty in all its forms, and violence.

Her husband abandoned the family in 2011 and took on another wife.

At the age of 27, Talent is divorced, living with her unemployed mother and struggling to raise her three daughters.

Two of those daughters — aged five and seven — are not in school.

Talent’s story is similar to the fate that has befallen hundreds of other young girls and boys in Zimbabwe. Young girls, for instance, are getting married at a tender age to escape poverty. Others are forced into marriage by their families on religious or cultural grounds.

Many families in Zimbabwe consider girls as a source of income rather that a family member. The practice of child marriage — itself a consequence of poverty — reinforces itself and subjects girls to even further and more acute poverty and the risk of health and livelihood challenges.

While there have been many positive changes in recent years, the challenges for children remain great. Children are significantly more likely to live in poverty than adults, and the impact of poverty on children can be devastating and lifelong, with implications for future generations and society as a whole.

Furthermore, children face these challenges globally, in richer and poorer countries alike. Knowing that child poverty has devastating effects on children and Zimbabwean society, and that children are over-represented among those living in poverty, is a strong and unequivocal call to action. What should compel us — morally and practically — is that child poverty is a problem with a solution.

It is important to distinguish between monetary and non-monetary child poverty. For children, poverty is about more than just money.

They experience poverty as being deprived in the immediate aspects of their lives, areas including nutrition, health, water, education, protection and shelter.

However, while these multiple dimensions of poverty and deprivation are of vital importance to children, monetary poverty — household income — also matters.

To address monetary child poverty, we need to support families and households to have a minimum income and ensure financial barriers don’t prevent children from reaching their potential. To address multidimensional child poverty, we need to provide quality access to services to the most deprived children — including in areas such as nutrition, health and education which represent their multidimensional aspect of poverty and determine whether children will be able to fulfil their potential and end the cycle of poverty.

The Convention on Rights of the Child sets standards that all children have the right to a core minimum level of well-being, including the right to nutrition, basic education, survival and protection.

Poverty denies children of their fundamental human rights — and this should be of concern to all of us! With the global agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including children in the targets and indicators, there is now a rallying force to “leave no-one behind”.

The SDGs — much to their credit — include children in the targets and indicators, and there is now a global mandate for reporting on child poverty and ending extreme child poverty and halving the poverty of children by 2030.

For Zimbabwe, this requires us to report on progress on reducing poverty of children, and creates an opportunity for stakeholders — which really should be each and every one of us — engaged in the fight against child poverty to engage in national processes to achieve this goal.

Zimbabwe has the capacity to make considerable inroads into reducing child poverty in all its forms. It requires a mind-set of hope, compassion and love. It requires action from all of us, not just some of us.

Because poverty in childhood is felt most immediately and brutally by children themselves, but its implications stretch much further, our failure to protect children is one of the costliest mistakes that society can make.

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