Childhood: Africa is the worst place for children

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A boy in Kroo Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone

The future of the African child is assaulted the moment it is born into certain geographies.

The life of a child is a simple one: be a child and enjoy as much of life as you can, while you can.

For a typical child in Africa, you have the bonus struggle of beating incredible odds to stay alive.

The first battle a child has to fight is against their environment, and it depends on whether they end up in the overcrowded slums of Kroo Bay, Sierra Leone or the lush heart of Stockholm, Sweden.

 

For 700 million children around the world currently, there is no bright chance at a proper childhood.

While compiling data for 172 countries across the world, Save the Children's first annual End of Childhood Index makes for some sad reading about the plights of children, most especially in Africa.

Rated on health, education and protection status, the international NGO ranked the surveyed countries based on the population of endangered children they have, from fewest to most.

Africa occupies the bottom 20 positions on that ranking with Niger at the base.

 

Nigeria is 160th.

 

Africa usually gets the short end of the stick when the conversation revolves around development and quality of life, so this information should not shock anyone.

Researchers used touchstones like mortality for children under five, malnutrition, access to quality education, child labour, early marriage, adolescent births, displacement, and child homicide.

These are all issues that the continent has miserably failed at over the past few decades; issues that have always somehow been played around but never really dominated the narrative despite its dominance in the life of the average African.

According to the report, the African child is the worst-placed to have a childhood, much less derive any sort of enjoyment from it.

The future of an African child is assaulted the moment it is born into certain geographies.

The child is robbed of a most fundamental phase to develop emotional and social intelligence.

Displacement is one of the most pivotal reasons why Africa is in this deep dive in the rankings; it is the host parasite of most of these other problems.

Worldwide, 26 million children are displaced.

The north eastern region of Nigeria has been unfortunately exposed to the affliction of terrorist group, Boko Haram, with millions dead or displaced from their roots.

4.7 million people across some areas were reported by the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP) to already be facing acute hunger, with five children said to be dying daily from starvation.

In South Sudan, 166 on the log, more than 1.9 million people are internally displaced and at least 1.7 million have fled the country to relative safety.

It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must be for children to survive under harsh conditions such as this, and the truth is they hardly ever do.

 

It is because of this dire situation, that other important factors like malnutrition, child mortality, and limited access to education have thrived to a very large degree.

According to Denise Brown, emergency coordinator for the WFP, more than 20 million people across Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, are in areas hit by drought and are experiencing famine or at high risk of it.

This doesn’t get talked about enough, but malnutrition is a very big problem that’s largely slipping under the radar, unsolved.

If a child is criminally underfed in the first 1000 days from birth, there’s a good chance the child will suffer from stunted growth caused by chronic malnutrition that’s almost impossible to recover from.

The report says 26% of Kenyan children are stunted; 34% in Uganda, and 37% in Malawi.

 

Nigeria is afflicted with a population of 10 million children who are suffering from stunted growth.

That's millions of children who are effectively denied of a fair chance at survival because they are more likely to yield to illness and subsequent death, than they are to go spend a day at the beach and do stupid children things.

It doesn't help that most of these African countries don't have a particularly sound health care plan in place to arrest this slide.

The index revealed that the highest rates of child mortality happen in countries that are struggling to provide basic medical care, like Nigeria (of course), Chad, Mali, and a host of some other sub-Saharan African countries.

According to a 2014 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Norway’s health care spending was $6,177 per citizen.

Nigeria's expense per citizen was $6. It's no wonder, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the country bears 24% of the world's global disease burden.

 

Again, grim figures that should some really spark angry conversations.

More than 10% of children in these impoverished African countries don’t live up to the age of five, a staggering likelihood of 40 more times than the rate of countries in the upper end of the ranking.

It should also shock no one that a good chunk of these unfortunate statistics emerge from the lower corridors of the society, most especially the poor and disadvantaged.

In Senegal, the poorest children are 3 times more likely to die before age 5 compared to children born to wealthy parents, for quite obvious reasons.

In Nigeria, children with illiterate mothers are also 3 times more likely to die before the age of 5 when compared to children born to mothers with at least intermediate-level formal education.

A United Nation's Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report released on Sunday, June 14, 2017, claimed that no fewer than 10.5 million children in the country are out of school, the highest in the world.

 

Senate President, Bukola Saraki, described the figure as "alarming and a ticking time bomb."

He said, “An uneducated population will be locked in a cycle of poverty for their entire lives."

And he is right. It's impossible to disconnect the formative years of a person from who they eventually become.

The highest rates of out-of-school children still reside in the sub-Saharan Africa that sits comfortably at the bottom of the comfort tree for children.

In Eritrea, 63% of the children are out of the classroom, either trying to help their families earn more for survival, or just wasting away because their parents are too poor to afford formal education.

Universal primary education is a pipe dream for most of these countries who are either too impoverished, or too politically unstable to make fixes to these disturbing normalcy.

The real worry here is that there is a cycle that is going to keep spinning if genuine conversations are not had to combat the problem.

The group of children who do manage to avoid the ugliness of malnutrition or child mortality are mostly only lucky enough to get dragged into the child labour market that compromises them in even more upsetting ways.

 

Figures from a 2016 UNICEF survey conclude that around 15 million Nigerian children under the age of 14 are working across the country, mostly at the detriment of getting a proper formal education.

56% of Mali’s children population is forced into child labour. Guinea-Bissau and Benin have 51% and 53% respectively.

Some of these children work under very dangerous conditions to earn a living for themselves and their families, while their quality of life takes a beating.

Poor children are exposed to very limited choices that mean these jobs they do aren’t necessarily ones that benefit them development-wise.

It’s one of the reasons why human trafficking is a thriving business in these places.

The secretive nature of the trade makes it hard for any reliable statistics, but trafficking of children for exploitative labour is a widespread practice in Nigeria and many other African countries.

The disadvantage of these children growing up in their poor environments is that they are also more likely to be exposed to violence at a very formative stage than their mates in better settings.

For the past decade, child homicide rates are higher in Latin America than in Africa, but the continent isn’t without its own demons.

800 to 900 children are reportedly murdered in South Africa every year, according to police figures.

Between 1986 and 2009, Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) guerilla group, is said to have forced 66,000 children into his army.

 

Despite the heavy shadow of gloom that hangs over the African child, it is important to put into perspective that things are not as bad as they used to be, say, 27 years ago.

West and Central Africa have cut down the under-5 child mortality rate to half since 1990, with Liberia and Niger cutting the rate by more than two-thirds.

While this may seem like significant progress, it’s not near impressive enough to be acceptable.

Africa is still chasing its own tail on the most fundamental problems while the world trots along and leaves it behind.

The unfortunate limitations of a potential work force is an economic challenge for countries that are already struggling with development.

More needs to be done. Africa needs to care more for its children.

 

Children are at their most vulnerable in that state where they start to form their core, and it goes a long way in determining how likely they are to reach their full potentials, given a proper chance.

There’s enough resources to pool around and combat most of these issues, if the right people are willing to finally wake up to the transgressions going on.

Ahead of the World Economic Forum for Africa last month, South Africa's deputy finance minister Sifiso Buthelezi lamented the disconnection between the continent's abundant natural resources and its tiresome issues, saying, "It's part of the paradox of Africa. You have got vast lands but our people are starving. There's definitely something that we need to do".

If the current rate of chaos in Africa continues, an additional 350 million people are expected to be forced into poverty by 2032.

Grim figure.

Africa needs to do better.



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