primary microcephalyCouples and women commonly come to pray for fertility at the shrine of Shah Daula in Gujarat, Pakistan. According to certain beliefs, women who conceive after praying at the shrine donate their firstborn child to the shrine to prevent disabilities from appearing in the rest of their children. These children, dubbed the “rat children of Shah Daula,” largely suffer from primary microcephaly, a medical condition where the head’s circumference is smaller than average and the brain is smaller on average as well.

Many of these children beg around the shrine and surrounding cities. Theories in the past as to how these individuals came to be range from artificially-done microcephaly to genetics. Regardless, history and current issues of exploitation of the children and adults in the shrine of Shah Daula remain. Furthermore, addressing the cycle of poverty for these individuals stands as a critical priority.

Artificial or Genetic

One of the main conversations surrounding the “rat children” consists of the nature of primary microcephaly. The belief of artificially inflicting individuals with primary microcephaly has its roots in certain religious traditions connected to the Shah Daula shrine. The process involves putting an iron ring around a child’s head to restrict the growth of the head and brain, shaping their features to resemble rats. This typically forces these children to have to beg for a living.

Genetics also cause the deformities. Medline states that in Northern Pakistan, which has one of the highest rates recorded, primary microcephaly affects one in 10,000 newborns.  The high prevalence correlates to higher rates of intrafamilial marriages, which results in higher rates of genetic disorders.

However, despite debates on the causes, individuals born with primary microcephaly suffer a neurodevelopmental disorder. They bear the medical symptoms for the rest of their lives. Individuals with primary microcephaly typically experience the following in varying degrees: delayed speech and language skills along with delayed motor skills. It is these qualities that make the children and adults suffering from this neurological disorder vulnerable to exploitation. Many of the children and adults of the shrine of Shah Daula do not have anyone to depend upon and are largely left to beg on the streets for money.

Struggling with Exploitation

Origins of the condition aside, many people with primary microcephaly remain in poverty due to exploitation. In an academic study from the Quaid-e-Azam University of Pakistan, one interviewee describes how villagers in certain areas took advantage of disabled individuals for financial gain. “Villagers take these kids from their parents by giving them money and make them bareheaded.” The money the children receive from begging would then go into the villagers’ hands.

Many aspects of the mistreatment surrounding microcephalic children and adults remain illegal under the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 328 in the Pakistan Penal Code relates to the “[e]xposure and abandonment of a child under 12 years by a parent or person having care of it.” This means that mothers, fathers or guardians cannot leave a child anywhere with the intention to abandon the child.

Sections 332 and 335 make disfigurement, whether temporary or permanent, punishable by law. Section 374 separately states, “Whoever unlawfully compels any person to labor against the will of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment [or fines or both].” Nearly every aspect surrounding the treatment of microcephalic individuals in Pakistan can be considered illegal.

Offering Solutions

While there has not been major change concerning the treatment of microcephalic children and adults in Pakistan, new laws supporting the exploited and abandoned are a step in the right direction. In 2016, the parliament of Pakistan passed the Unattended Orphans (Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, with the aim of “protecting the rights of unattended orphan and abandoned children” as well as “ensuring provision of facilities to them, including housing, education and healthcare.”

The Act also necessitates that the government “take other measures as may be necessary for their rehabilitation and welfare.” Importantly, the Act declares that anyone “who forces any unattended orphan to beg and commit petty crime or pick rags or any act which is injurious to health and dignity of an orphan will be punished with imprisonment of not less than four years, which may be extended to seven years and a fine of up to Rs200,000.”

Medical care for these individuals and providing for their basic needs so that they are not left vulnerable could improve fundamental conditions. The Technology Times suggests an increase in genetic counseling to address the role that genetics and “consanguineous” marriages play in the high rates of primary microcephaly in Pakistan.

An increased focus on helping those afflicted would benefit many in Pakistan. To lead to a point of positive change, the Pakistani government can evaluate from joint medical and policy standpoints to better help some of those most in need.

Grace Ingles
Photo: Unsplash

projects in portugalPortugal already suffers from significant poverty and the recent COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating these struggles. Prior to the pandemic, a fifth of the population, or approximately two million people, were considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The pandemic pushed around 400,000 people below the poverty line. Additionally, it increased the at-risk-of-poverty rate by 25%. However, Portugal’s two new poverty projects, formed within the last two years, work to significantly mitigate Portugal’s poverty problems. The projects address two main problems within Portugal: homelessness and child poverty. In addition, these two projects plan to ambitiously confront these features of poverty beyond the pandemic to offer sustainable poverty reduction in Portugal.

CRESCER’s É Uma Mesa Project

CRESCER is an organization that funds several initiatives in Portugal. It aims to promote the health and social integration of the most vulnerable on the streets of Lisbon. In recent months, CRESCER created the É Uma Mesa project. One of a few innovative projects in Portugal, É Uma Mesa centers around the restaurant and catering business. It prompts the social inclusion of specific vulnerable groups into the labor market. The project focuses mostly on homeless people but also supports refugees in extreme poverty. There are two main features of the project: conducting extensive training and offering restaurant employment.

The first feature consists of extensive training for homeless and extremely impoverished refugee groups. The É Uma Mesa effort trains these individuals in social and relational skills. They receive this on top of the service and catering skills acquired from on-the-job restaurant training. Furthermore, É Uma Mesa also offers “psychosocial support” to improve mental health for the homeless. Multifaceted training helps enable better integration of the homeless into the labor market and leads to greater inclusion within Portuguese society.

The Project’s Impact

É Uma Mesa notably supported the homeless community in recent months. FEANTSA, a major European group working on homelessness, recognized its achievements by awarding the project the 2021 Silver Prize of the Ending Homelessness Awards. Moreover, the project does not focus solely on homelessness during the pandemic and it is planning for the future with some notable long-term objectives.

These long-term objectives aim to significantly minimize Portuguese poverty and homelessness. One aim is to integrate 75 beneficiaries into training and 40 beneficiaries into the labor market each year. Efforts seek to improve the lives of the beneficiaries beyond the short term. To achieve this, ameliorating social and health conditions to ensure consistent stability remains a priority. And, CRESCER hopes to ensure the project is self-sustainable after three years.

La Caixa Foundation

La Caixa Foundation is the second of two new poverty projects in Portugal. Its main goal consists of providing several major initiatives that improve Portuguese child poverty and education. Its “social observatory” division is instrumental in conducting studies. Supported by the Center of Economics for Prosperity (PROSPER), the effort works to provide more accurate figures on poverty in Portugal.  The on-the-ground situation in Portugal plunged significant proportions of the population into poverty or propelled many to become at risk of poverty.

The other key division of this foundation is the “social programs” division. Specifically, this division made its most significant impact on minimizing child poverty and furthering education prospects for impoverished families. The collaboration of more than 400 local social organizations promotes the social and educational development of young children and adolescents. Simultaneously, this is in conjunction with mobilization efforts targeted at eradicating child poverty. As a result, La Caixa Foundation’s “CaixaProinfancia” has proven to be significant in its impact. In 2020, the project’s work enabled 58,841 impoverished children to attend school and supported 35,326 families.

Ultimately, these dual efforts reduce the impact of Portuguese poverty through multiple efforts. As the pandemic continues, many of those suffering the most gain critical support at critical times. As La Caixa and CRESCER continue to meet their goals, many of Portugal’s most needy stand to benefit.

Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Ahmad Joudeh and SOS Children's VillagesAhmad Joudeh is a world-renowned ballet dancer and is famous for his performance in Eurovision 2021. His background is less well-known. Growing up in a refugee camp in Syria, Joudeh dreamed of dancing. In 2021, he began volunteering with SOS Children’s Villages, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children and families in poverty and providing humanitarian assistance where it is needed.

Ahmad Joudeh Growing Up

Ahmad Joudeh grew up with aspirations of dancing since he was young. For much of his young life, he lived in a refugee camp. Joudeh lived in an environment where poverty is the norm. The people around Joudeh were primarily unsupportive of his dancing. However, he defied traditional expectations of men in Syria and would dance in the streets.

Joudeh studied dance at the Enana Dance Theatre for almost a decade from 2006 to 2015. He made his biggest appearance on the world stage in Eurovision 2021. In his free time, Joudeh teaches at the SOS Children’s Villages. Joudeh dances with the children and volunteers to inspire them in the art of dance and help them build confidence to navigate any issues that may arise while living in poverty.

SOS Children’s Villages

SOS Children’s Villages is an international organization with more than 130 “villages” in operation. The organization was founded by Herman Gmeiner in 1949 after witnessing the effects of World War II on local children. Gmeiner developed SOS Children’s Villages with the help of family, friends and generous donors. Since then, Gmeiner’s organization has blossomed to help children on an international scale.

The SOS Children’s Villages help families struggling financially by training parents in skills for workplace environments or counseling families as needed. The organization works one-on-one with children to provide education and health services while advocating at policy levels and providing safe spaces to explore.

Children and Families Using SOS Children’s Villages Services

Since children and families involved with SOS Children’s Villages face financial difficulties, they often do not have the tools or resources to help themselves. As a result, a significant number of SOS Children’s Villages residents rely on education. With volunteers, the organization reaches out within the communities where volunteers operate. The volunteers engage the families and children struggling and provide quality education on life skills.

When SOS Children’s Villages are helping a child or a family, the villages provide a safe space. For hours each day, the families are cared for in a safe environment to foster new habits and skills until each individual or family no longer requires the organization’s services. SOS Children’s Villages operate in areas where poverty is high. For example, in the main village in Syria where Ahmad Joudeh volunteered, the poverty rate reached 80%. The village works with families to ease financial burdens in both the short and long terms.

Building Community

The education provided to parents and children worldwide through this organization helps each person find a good job or mentorship. In addition, with its advocacy work, SOS Children’s Villages helps build protection within communities and in governments to support families in poverty.

Because people born into poverty often do not have access to higher education, they are likely to remain in poverty. In 2018, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) surveyed childhood education, attendance and poverty and found that more than 250 million children globally cannot attend school due to the cost. SOS Children’s Villages provide education to children at no cost to the families to break the cycle of poverty.

Understandably, Ahmad Joudeh knows the strains poverty can have on children. The mental health issues that develop in children living in poverty are most commonly anxiety and depression. So while SOS Children’s Villages operate to ease physical and financial difficulties, Joudeh dances with the children and strives to help them achieve their dreams.

Ahmad Joudeh’s Involvement and His Hopes for the Children

Joudeh has a deep respect for the work of SOS Children’s Villages. For some time, he has taught dancing in the organization’s village in Damascus to help build long-term goals for children. In 2016, Joudeh also did a workshop with the children in the SOS Children’s Village Vicenza. Joudeh dances with the children and guides them to work through their anxieties and constant worries around them. The mental toll on children in poverty in the areas where SOS Children’s Villages operate is devastating.

Joudeh dances with the children step-by-step, providing undivided attention, teaching them to focus on the music and not the world. The safe space he creates through dance grants these children an opportunity to explore and feel free without worries about what the outside world may bring or what challenges await their families. Joudeh dances with the children because his dreams of dance have expanded over the years. The freedom Joudeh finds in dancing is a feeling he hopes to extend to the children in the SOS Children’s Villages.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in ZimbabweThe COVID-19 pandemic tremendously affected the lives of children in Zimbabwe. From food and health insecurities to school shutdowns, the children of this nation are in an economic, health and educational crisis. According to the World Bank, in 2019, 38.3% of  Zimbabwe’s citizens lived in poverty. Moreover, since schools closed down in Zimbabwe due to COVID-19, only 27% of impoverished children continued to engage in education and learning. However, nonprofit organizations such as Makomborero and Save the Children are taking the initiative of tackling child poverty in Zimbabwe amid COVID-19. These nonprofits offer hope for positive change through their praiseworthy work.

Makomborero’s Work

Makomborero focuses on eradicating poverty in Zimbabwe. This organization specifically tailors toward the needs of Zimbabwean children. It allocates the necessary educational resources to enable students to achieve their educational goals and ultimately escape poverty. Makomborero, meaning “blessings” in Shona, provides girls with an opportunity to engage in a mentorship program. The organization also funds the education of 10 students every year through its scholarship program. Recently, the organization built a science laboratory for students. Children got to practice and apply what they learned in a modern lab.

Despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19, Makomborero successfully persevered. This nonprofit organization was able to lift children out of poverty in myriad ways. Makomborero’s team donated “backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, toiletries, stationery, hand sanitizer, masks, solar lamps and food packs” to students on March 20, 2021. Additionally, 80 girls were also given “sustainable sanitary wear” due to Makomborero’s outreach efforts. As of September 2020, the organization’s sponsored students were able to attend in-person classes, thus increasing access to and quality of education.

Save the Children’s Efforts

Save the Children is an international nonprofit organization focused on reducing child poverty in Zimbabwe and other nations amid COVID-19. The nonprofit provides both short-term and long-term solutions. It has served children in Zimbabwe since 1983 by addressing the urgent food, health and educational insecurities nationwide. For example, Save the Children constructed a family tracing and reunification program to ensure the safety of Zimbabwean children. Furthermore, its emergency response program provides highly effective emergency relief aid to all children in Zimbabwe.

In 2020 alone, Save the Children positively impacted the lives of 246,000 children by allocating educational, health and other necessary resources to lift them out of poverty. Moreover, the child sponsorship program attempts to decrease the number of children living in poverty, which is currently more than 3.8 million Zimbabwean children, according to Save the Children.

Positive Progression and Outcomes

Save the Children educated 82,000 Zimbabwean children and lifted 31,000 children from poverty, according to its recorded data from 2020.. In general, approximately one million children are sponsored by U.S. citizens alone through this child sponsorship program. The positive progression of lifting children out of poverty in Zimbabwe, especially amid COVID-19, translates over to the achievements of the Makomborero organization as well.

These organizations address the urgent short-term needs of children in Zimbabwe along with long-term endeavors. The organizations are succeeding in eradicating child poverty in Zimbabwe amid COVID-19. Nonprofit organizations such as Makomborero and Save the Children play essential roles in lifting children out of poverty in Zimbabwe. The positive progression of Zimbabwean children since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic continues because of the applaudable service of organizations.

– Nora Zaim-Sassi
Photo: Flickr

child poverty in PeruLife in Peru is rich in indigenous culture and beautiful landmarks such as Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Amazon jungle. Livelihoods in Peru take different forms as people from the countryside live in more traditional means, partly because of their Quechua origins and the location in which they reside. In the working world of Peru, children often work beside adults. However, the prevalence of child labor means that child poverty in Peru is also prevalent.

Rural Children in Peru

The significantly mountainous geography of Peru affects how citizens travel and exert energy to accomplish daily tasks. The land in Peru creates a large gap between urban and rural lifestyles. For a person who lives in rural land, it is normal for whole families to provide for each other because it is the most efficient means for survival.

Everyone plays a part, including the children, who have obligations to the rural Peruvian household. Project Peru states that approximately “28.6% of children between the ages of 6-17 already receive wages or are paid in kind.” Fulfilling duties to support the household is not uncommon. Earning an income while trying to balance schooling is a norm for many Peruvian children. Yet, prioritizing income over education only serves to exacerbate child poverty in Peru since education is a proven tool for breaking cycles of poverty.

Children Providing for the Household

Roughly 90% of Peruvian children work in informal job sectors. These jobs are often unregulated, putting children at risk of exploitation and dangerous working conditions. Some of these children work more than 45 hours per week — more than an average adult’s work schedule in the United States. The informal sectors contribute to 73% of the economy’s labor.

In the same instance, child labor usage significantly benefits unregulated, informal businesses, and as such, employers consider children to be assets. Hence, child poverty in Peru is commonly present because informal sectors take advantage of underprivileged rural children, often underpaying, overworking and exploiting these children.

An April 2008 study by Alan Sanchez shows that almost one in every two Peruvians lives in poverty. Meanwhile, 60% of Peruvian children live in poverty. Urban children do not experience the same hardships because they often do not need to provide extensive income for the household through child labor. For children from the countryside, however, life is vastly different.

The prevalence of child labor links to high rates of poverty and minimal opportunities for well-paying, secure employment that can provide enough monetary support for the whole household. In addition, a lack of social support from the government means families struggle to meet their basic needs without the economic assistance of their children.

The United States Intervenes

In response to the high rates of child poverty in Peru, in July 2012, the U.S. donated $13 million to Peru to reduce the usage of child labor. The donation helped make educational resources more available for rural children. The pilot program created by Peru had plans to support rural families to increase their income without relying on the employment of a child in the household. The director of the project, Maro Guerrero, said Peru is not against children working. However, children’s work should not interfere with their education and well-being. The pilot program was expected to yield positive results, however, there is little data available on the official achievements of the program.

“Free of Child Labor” Certification

In 2019, the government of Peru partnered with an NGO “to create a new label to certify family businesses” as “free of child labor.” This effort serves to help eradicate child labor in Peru. In 2019, roughly “1,500 small producers” were “preparing to be evaluated and due to obtain certification by 2020.” María Gloria Barreiro, director of the Development and Self-Management NGO, states that “It’s not about children not helping at home, it’s about drawing that line that divides help at home, training and learning activities and what constitutes a danger.”

The Peruvian government hopes that these child labor-free certified products will sell at a higher price, as with organic goods, improving the income of impoverished Peruvians. Barreiro emphasizes that to truly eradicate child labor, the certification must exist alongside social initiatives “to improve the economic situation of small producers and ensure their children have access to education.”

With efforts from governments and organizations that aim to reduce child poverty in Peru, hope is on the horizon for the impoverished children of Peru.

– Trever Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in MyanmarChild marriage in Myanmar, despite being internationally classified as a human rights violation, is still legally protected. The legal age to wed with parental permission is 14 and many parents condone young weddings due to extreme poverty.

Child Marriage in Myanmar

Child marriage is not an issue unique to Myanmar. Roughly 40 million girls around the world (aged 15-19) are in a marriage or union. Global child marriage rates are improving though, decreasing by 25% since 2000. Education plays a significant role in this decrease across countries that are successful in working to eliminate this human rights violation.

Recent studies find that despite international efforts and success in lowering rates in other nations, rates of child marriage in Myanmar for girls aged 15-19 are still increasing. While experts have a difficult time tracking underage unions, Girls Not Brides estimates that 16% of girls in Myanmar marry before their 18th birthday.

There is a stark intersection between child marriage and extreme poverty. Many parents seek to marry off their young daughters because of the perceived assurance of security. This is especially prevalent when it becomes difficult for a parent to provide for their child. Parents want the instant financial relief of one less person to feed and the promise that their child will be provided for.

The Dangers of Child Marriage

  • Prematurely ends childhood. Premature marriage forces adult responsibilities and domestic duties on children. This often comes with social isolation that stunts emotional growth and harms mental health.
  • Lack of access to healthcare. Many child brides are not given the autonomy to make their own medical decisions and lack access to health services due to “oppressive conditions.” Unaffordable medical costs and isolation from medical facilities, especially in impoverished areas, also prevent girls from accessing healthcare.
  • Higher rates of physical and sexual violence. Many child brides lack sufficient education and are wholly dependent on their older spouses. When subject to domestic violence, these girls experience isolation with nobody to turn to for help. Child marriage also sees higher rates of abuse than unions formed in adulthood.
  • Complications in pregnancies and deliveries. Getting pregnant before the body is fully mature has serious, and even lethal, consequences for both young mothers and their babies. These complications include fistulas, miscarriages and neonatal conditions.
  • Disrupts education. Oftentimes, young girls have to leave school for marriage. Because the girls must focus on domestic responsibilities as wives, the girls permanently drop out of school. This limits socioeconomic mobility and results in spousal dependency.

The Importance of Education

Emphasizing the importance of education to parents and making education more accessible to impoverished communities is essential to decreasing child marriage in Myanmar. Girls who receive a secondary school or higher education are three times more likely to get married after the age of 18. Investing in education for young girls ensures that they have the skills and knowledge to rise out of poverty and make informed decisions about their bodies, their relationships and their lives overall. With education, girls are able to achieve economic independence as education paves the way for well-paying employment opportunities.

United World Schools

United World Schools aims to make education accessible, inclusive and empowering to all, especially young girls. The organization’s work in Myanmar is motivated by the fact that more than 91,000 elementary school-aged children are not able to pursue education.

The organization primarily works in Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar to construct and develop schools over a five to seven-year period. Then, the organization slowly transitions the schools to government ownership. The organization primarily addresses the inaccessibility of education for isolated, impoverished communities. Also, United World Schools offers free education in local languages in these areas.

United World Schools addresses the issue of child marriage in Myanmar by emphasizing the importance of education, especially for young girls. The organization has been successful in establishing more than 50 partnerships with communities and local leaders in Myanmar to bolster education initiatives. In Myanmar, the organization has also enrolled more than 3,000 children in their schools and funded the staffing of more than 200 local and government educators.

Properly funded schools that address language barriers and operate in remote regions are crucial to keeping girls in school. With this in mind, there is hope for protecting more young girls from child marriage in Myanmar.

– Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

child poverty in northern IrelandPrior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the official percentage of children in Northern Ireland living in relative poverty was 22%. Although this is slightly lower than the 2018/2019 estimate of 24%, the raw number this figure translates to is staggering: approximately 100,000 children are living in relative poverty. While child poverty in Northern Ireland was decreasing, the pandemic will likely spark a long-term rise. The Resolution Foundation estimates that an additional 13,000 children could fall into poverty within the next four years. Fortunately, the government and major nonprofit organizations are working to address this issue.

Key Government Steps

The government has taken steps to minimize the effects of the pandemic on child poverty in Northern Ireland. For starters, the Minister for Communities committed to continuing welfare mitigations from the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, the department also announced the extension of the 2016-2019 Poverty Strategy to May 2022, allowing for more thorough, long-term engagement in addressing child poverty.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education adopted a “cash-first” approach for free school meals. This reduced the burden for impoverished families by ensuring their children received food at school. Additionally, the government helped thousands of children with a “£20 uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits.” This policy is part of the government’s ongoing support to local charities in Northern Ireland’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

Action for Children

Action for Children is a U.K. children’s charity aimed at helping Ireland’s most vulnerable children and adolescents. The charity’s widespread impact throughout the last year cannot be understated as it has supported more than 15,500 children and families. The charity has helped grow the Belfast fostering service and support children at risk of homelessness. Furthermore, it has been instrumental in providing mental health support outlets, helping to improve the emotional wellbeing of children suffering from the effects of poverty. The efforts of Action for Children positively impact children across the country.

Save the Children

Save the Children, a leading humanitarian aid organization for children, has also played an essential role in fighting child poverty in Northern Ireland. During the past year, in collaboration with local groups, the organization has provided vouchers that cover the costs of essential household items and food to help more than 3,900 children. Additionally, Save the Children has produced child poverty reports that include survey data and interviews with suffering families. The Northern Irish government is utilizing these reports to help it determine what anti-poverty policies to implement next.

Proposed Steps for Further Action

Save the Children outlined a list of recommendations in its 2021 report on child poverty in Northern Ireland. The report proposes that the government should take three key steps:

  • Strengthen the welfare mitigations package, including providing added packages for families that are not part of the two-child welfare limit.
  • Initiate the policies put forward by the Anti-Poverty Expert Advisory Panel for the Anti-Poverty Strategy.
  • Continue to support the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits by extending it beyond the current cut-off point, which is September 2021.

Moving forward, it is essential that the government take these recommendations and others into consideration. With continued efforts by the Northern Irish government and humanitarian organizations such as Action for Children and Save the Children, child poverty in Northern Ireland will hopefully decrease in the coming years, in spite of the pandemic.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Zambia
Child poverty remains an issue in Zambia, a country with a very young population. According to estimates, about 46% of Zambians are aged 14 and younger and the median age is one of the world’s lowest at a mere 16.8 years. The young average age is part of why child poverty is especially rampant in Zambia.

Child Poverty in Zambia

Nearly 42% of Zambia’s population is classified as extremely impoverished. As almost half the population consists of children, child poverty is a grave concern. Many Zambian children lack adequate healthcare, nutrition and housing. Families’ struggles for these basic needs force them to keep their children out of school, and instead, send them into the workforce. According to a U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs report, Zambia’s most prevalent form of child labor is agricultural work. Working children face long workdays and physical abuse as they attempt to earn an income to secure their basic needs.

Causes of Child Poverty in Zambia

The youthful country’s population continues to grow, which UNICEF considers the leading cause of its high child poverty rate. The fertility rate is 4.7 children per woman, with an annual population growth rate of 3.2%. An increase in children for those who are already not financially stable worsens monetary problems, and when many financially struggling families have more children, it causes a jump in child poverty.

About one out of five children in Zambia does not live with their parents, leading to a large number of children living on the streets. These children are susceptible to dangers such as abuse, alcohol and drug addiction and prostitution.

Despite the country’s efforts to eliminate gender disparities, which have allowed for girls to enroll in school in the same numbers as boys, education access remains an issue. Families struggle to pay fees required for attendance and battle to provide their children with the transportation needed to travel long distances to school.

Zambia’s large child population leaves schools struggling with overpopulation and lacking sufficient study materials. School buildings are unsafe, people rarely follow sanitation policies, teachers do not always have the qualifications needed and sexual abuse raises concern. In addition to poor school conditions, the pressure on children to provide for their families also leads to a decrease in children attending school.

CAMFED Zambia

Initiatives have emerged in order to combat child poverty in Zambia. For example, Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) is an organization that works to improve the likelihood of Zambian children remaining in school. Founded in 1993, the organization aims to improve children’s access to education and ensure they finish school.

Zambian girls are more likely to drop out of school than males, with 13% of girls in rural areas having no education compared with just 5% of males in urban areas. According to CAMFED, poverty, child marriage and early pregnancy are the main factors that keep girls in rural areas from attending school.

CAMFED provides girls and people with disabilities with comprehensive material and non-material support and helps make them aware of the full potential they can live up to. Inspiring words and material necessities work together to show how important education is.

CAMFED’s Achievements

As of 2021, CAMFED Zambia has expanded its operations from three districts to 47 districts across four provinces. Girls who have accepted its support have demonstrated a school completion rate of 96%, with 98% of girls making at least some progress in school.

CAMFED has supported about 6,787 government partner schools across more than 161 districts in not only Zambia but Zimbabwe, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi as well. The program has also managed to provide 376,898 students with secondary scholarships.

CAMFED works toward providing females with long-term support for their education, and, CAMFED’s reason is simple. Everyone should have an equal opportunity at living a full life, regardless of financial status. Through CAMFED Zambia, the children of Zambia are learning that receiving an education is possible and a life of poverty is not the only option.

Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF's pledge to help children The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it physical, social and economic impacts that have been felt worldwide. Developing countries, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Furthermore, women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19. In September 2020, UNICEF called on the international community to take action “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a child-rights crisis.” UNICEF’s pledge to help children during the COVID-19 pandemic targets 192 vulnerable countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Health

Children are not as vulnerable to the direct physical impacts of COVID-19, but nevertheless, children worldwide suffer from the indirect impacts of COVID-19. The BBC reports that in South Asia, the disruption of essential services such as nutrition and immunization programs has led to 228,000 deaths of children younger than 5. During COVID-19, “the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal.”

Furthermore, “immunization among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.” In 2020, across South Asian nations, India experienced the highest increase in child mortality at 15.4%. The COVID-19 virus has abruptly halted many essential programs and services that helped safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in developing countries.

The disruption of health services has also affected adolescents battling diseases such as typhoid, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The BBC reports almost 6,000 deaths across South Asia stemming from the inability to access the required treatment. The deficiency in medical services also resulted in 400,000 unwanted pregnancies in teenagers due to inadequate access to contraception.

Child Labor and Child Marriage

The COVID -19 pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment and reduced household income, causing a rise in cases of child labor, reports Human Rights Watch. Parental deaths stemming from COVID-19 leave children orphaned, unable to have their basic needs met. UNICEF warns the international community that “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.” The organization estimates that 10 million more girls are now at risk of child marriage due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Impacts of School Closures

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, 91% of all students across more than 188 countries could not receive an education due to school closures. School closures deprive children “of physical learning opportunities, social and emotional support available in schools and extra services such as school meals.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face more barriers than children from more affluent families. These vulnerable children are at risk of losing the most in terms of educational progress.

The UNICEF Pledge

UNICEF has committed to work alongside “governments, authorities and global health partners” to ensure medicines, vaccines, nutritional resources and other vital supplies reach the most vulnerable people. UNICEF is prioritizing safe school reopenings, ensuring all safety protocols are in place. Where schools cannot reopen, UNICEF is working to develop “innovative education solutions” and provide remote learning support.

Since a lack of internet connectivity and electricity presents a barrier to online learning in impoverished communities, UNICEF has committed to ” bridge the digital divide and bring internet connectivity to 3.5 billion children and young people by 2030.” UNICEF is also working with governments and partners to ensure that children’s rights form a central part of COVID-19 response plans.

As the pandemic continues, the future is still unclear. During an unprecedented global crisis, UNICEF’s pledge to help children during COVID-19 shows its ongoing commitment to upholding children’s rights globally.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Romania
Romania, an Eastern European country bordering Ukraine and Hungary, is infamous for its struggles with children’s rights. A quarter of the nation lives below the poverty line, and furthermore, almost one-third of all children in Romania live below the poverty line. The rate of child poverty in Romania is one of the highest in the whole European Union.

Childhood Poverty in Romania

Romania has one of the highest poverty rates in Europe and the issue of child poverty is especially pressing. According to the Independent, child poverty in Romania has worsened in recent years due to three main reasons: “a higher rate of unemployment, a wider gap between rural and urban areas in terms of investment, education and employment opportunities” as well as “a general descending economic trend after the 2008 financial crisis.” Though the number of working children has decreased in recent years, still, 1% of children work, involved in begging, washing car windows or working as brickmakers. Some families sell their children to mafias who recruit them to join gangs or sex traffick them in Romania or in other European countries.

Rural Child Poverty

Today, child poverty is the worst in rural areas of Romania where 45% of the population lives. Most rural Romanians are impoverished subsistence farmers, leading to their children growing up in poverty-stricken conditions. Access to education and proper medical facilities is not as available as it is in cities. Many rural Romanians cannot pay for medical services, which has resulted in a severe lack of doctors in the countryside. In addition, the country decreased its education budget because of dire economic conditions, which led to a shortage of teachers. Furthermore, 400,000 children are not attending school.

Solutions

Several organizations have been working in Romania with the main goal of promoting the rights of children and lobbying the government in order to alleviate childhood poverty. The National Council of Students represents all the country’s students by defending students’ rights and lobbying for a reformed educational system. Another organization, the Children’s Board, comprises children of different ages from all over the country. It strives to create a governance that protects children of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

These organizations work to keep children’s voices heard in different capacities, a pressing task considering the treatment of children during Romania’s communist days. Four of the leading child protection organizations joined to produce the “Child Rights Now! Romania” report. The report details how child rights have improved since the end of communism and the execution of Romanian communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, in 1989. The report also highlights issues to address in order to improve child rights and decrease poverty levels, plus several tangible solutions.

More organizations are addressing child poverty in Romania than ever before. Under Ceaușescu’s regime, Romanian children living in poverty had no rights. Hopefully now, with the help of various advocacy organizations working with the government, improvements will alleviate child poverty in Romania.

– Allie Degner
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