Vulnerable children need support

By Wellington Gadzikwa

THE third school term started this week, but not for every child. The adage “When the sun shines it will be shining for others” aptly describes the situation that many underprivileged children find themselves in.

With increasing poverty levels exacerbated by the shrinking economy and the ravages of HIV and Aids, the chances of accessing education that can transform the lives of most  poor people is fast becoming the unthinkable.

It is saddening to see young children roaming the streets, looking after livestock, panning gold or as farm labourers instead of enjoying childhood and developing into tomorrow’s fathers and mothers.

If the situation continues to deteriorate unabated like this then what kind of society are we going to have in the foreseeable future?

Zimbabwe has an enviable record in terms of literacy, which according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s latest report stands at 92 percent and the country is ranked 95 in terms of world literacy rankings. This impressive record which has been built over the years can be history if access to education is not addressed as a matter of urgency. It will be very unfortunate for future generations to read of such a feat in history books without them being part of it.

Developed countries such as the United States of America are now learning the hard way after being overtaken by countries such as China and India in terms of investment in education.

Recent research reports indicate that almost half of the children in the United States do not get early childhood education and the country has no strategy to increase that enrolment.

To make the situation even worse is the fact that more than a quarter of the children in the United States have a chronic health condition such as obesity or asthma which threatens their capacity to learn.

Back home, we also have such challenges as a country with the 2010/2011 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey indicating that at least one in every three children in Zimbabwe suffers from chronic malnutrition which leads to  stunted  growth mainly due to the shunning of exclusive breast feeding by some mothers.

It further reveals that the growth and development of children is also hampered by recurring illnesses, lack of proper healthcare and poor feeding amongst a myriad of other factors.

Although the country adopted the Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals especially those focusing on children, a lot still needs to be done.

One such goal is to achieve universal primary education, where the government intends to ensure that by 2015 all Zimbabwean children, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full programme of primary education.

This sounds rather an easy task taking into consideration our track record as a country but the situation on the ground does not look pleasant at all. Many children from female and child- headed households and even male headed households are struggling to find enough food, clothing and healthcare making the provision of education a mere luxury.

Children are dropping out of school in most rural areas and it is increasingly becoming a norm.

Government assistance to orphaned and vulnerable children through the Basic Education Assistance Module to primary and secondary school pupils which started in 2000 has helped matters but challenges still remain.

The ever increasing number of children in need makes it very inadequate. Most beneficiaries cannot afford to pay the levies, incentives, school uniforms, books and food.

The situation is also dire in newly established schools where there are no proper structures, which makes learning more of a punishment than anything else.

My heart bleeds for such children. Should they be condemned to such a vicious cycle of poverty and deprivation to time indefinite? What prospects do such children have for a better future?

It is never too late to prepare a comprehensive rescue plan for these children.

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