The Gabonese Republic, a nation in central Africa bordering the Republic of the Congo to the east and south, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, originated in 1960 following independence from France. Following the successful decolonization movement, a constitutional and political order with a dominant presidency and close ties to France was established. Unfortunately, child poverty in Gabon is an issue that requires significant attention but some are making a difference.
President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba of the Gabonese Democratic Party, the new republic’s second head of state, abolished all other political parties. Using revenue from substantial natural reserves from forestry, oil and other extraction-based industries, Gabon invested in social services, such as comprehensive education, while encouraging the rural population to seek better-paying jobs based in urban centers.
Substantial aid from other nations such as France and multinational institutions, such as the United Nations, have provided additional benefits. Following political turmoil and economic stagnation through the 1980s, President Bongo reintroduced multiparty democracy and deregulated the private sector economy, encouraging business investment.
Gabon has since developed a reputation for stability and relative security in comparison with its central African neighbors. Additionally, Gabon is distinguished from its regional peers by its population, which is about 90% urban, and possesses one of the highest per capita incomes in central Africa. This wealth and high economic growth following independence has also permitted the country of $2.3 million to invest in economic development and establish social services, such as comprehensive education and other social services.
As a result, Gabon experiences comparatively lower rates of poverty, illiteracy and food insecurity than most of its central and sub-Saharan peers. However, domestic government aid has been criticized globally for being inefficient, with economic incentives and development programs often benefiting those already secure and receiving upper and middle incomes more than concentrated demographics in need of direct help, such as impoverished children. Here is information about child poverty in Gabon and the efforts to eliminate it.
Poverty Among Vulnerable Groups
Despite these advantages and policies, Gabon continues to suffer from high concentrations of poverty and insecurity amongst vulnerable parts of the population, such as the elderly, those in rural areas and children. Children, who account for a substantial proportion of Gabon’s population, also face disadvantages due to mixed social services and basic infrastructure and uneven educational and early job opportunities, especially in rural areas. While the total national poverty rate is 38.5%, more than 40% of children face deprivation in health and sanitation, with nearly 50% facing such shortfalls in rural areas. Similarly, though unemployment amongst the broad population is 20%, youth unemployment remains elevated at 38%.
Learning Poverty in Gabon
Issues more relevant to younger children are also prevalent, such as in education, which reflects the nuanced situation for children in Gabon. Primary and secondary education is mandatory from the ages 6 to 16, and Gabon has invested more resources than average for sub-Saharan Africa on a per-student basis.
Additionally, learning poverty, defined as an inability to comprehend grade-level text by the age of 10 years, is 49.9% below average for regional peers. Despite these longstanding advantages in basic educational services, with only 9% of children not enrolled in school, persistent challenges exist in attempts to improve both the quality of services and reduce the substantial quantity of children not getting an adequate array of curricular services.
Proficiency remains an ongoing challenge, with substantial minorities evaluated by international observers as below proficient; 31% do not achieve the Minimum Proficiency Standard, a national test sponsored by the United Nations Institute for Statistics to measure academic skills among school children.
Overcrowding and a shortage of experienced teachers are especially prevalent in rural areas and “poor” educational quality compounds them.
Food Security and Water Access
Food security and access to water, examples of the essential services Gabon has been able to provide to its residents, also face issues related to quality which may hamper further progress. The imposition of a national water price, though effective in guaranteeing affordability for most households, remains prohibitive for those in poverty, especially families in rural areas.
Further, rural families often lack direct access to water and depend upon neighbors, who often demand premiums over the government price, negating the impact. This structural obstacle towards greater water access also challenges efforts to improve access to superior so-called hygienic facilities, with 47% of households without running water septic systems and latrines. As a result, 40% of children lack basic hygienic provisions, with those in rural areas getting fewer resources on average.
Historical improvements and more recent stagnation have also defined progress in addressing food insecurity among children in Gabon. According to the Global Hunger Index, Gabon has experienced gradual declines in chronic undernourishment of children, with the proportion of stunted children declining to under 20%. However, undernourishment remains a growing issue, with the UNICEF statistics showing that 35% of children in Gabon are nutritionally deprived, a reflection of ongoing problems in concentrating aid and resources towards those already disadvantaged, especially families, in rural areas.
In sum, the Gabonese Republic has, through the encouragement of international aid and continuous social investments, successfully outperformed most other central African peers in countering poverty, including child poverty in Gabon. These investments, such as in widespread education and in key industries, have proved constructive in reducing poverty and countering social ills. However, the most vulnerable demographics, such as the poorest and children, have not reaped the full benefits of these programs and investments, acting as an example of the benefits of incentivizing aid while highlighting the intractability of complex issues such as child poverty in developing nations.
– Cormac Sullivan
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