Whatever one’s region, ethnicity, religion, race or culture, no one can escape from being responsible for helping the children of this world. If that is so, then we all need to do more for the future of our common inheritance by ensuring that children around the globe do not suffer. Today, children in Africa require attention, and deserve it too.
Children in Africa are perhaps the worst victims of poverty today.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst hit region in terms of impact of poverty, but what is worse, it shows little signs of improvement, even now, and the situation gets more complicated every day due to factors like HIV epidemic, persistent malnutrition and malaria. Children, the most vulnerable group in any human society, end up bearing the greatest brunt of its impact, which is visibly reflected in the images of starving undernourished children, that we come across every now and then.
In many countries, civil conflict and even genocide have also contributed significantly to this problem. Rwanda in the nineties and Darfur today are living examples. Even in countries, which are economically better off, the islands of absolute poverty continue to exist with all its inhuman curses.
The worst curse of poverty is child malnutrition. The physical capacity of a society or a nation is significantly impacted by the inadequate nutritional status of its children. Child malnutrition that begins during the intra-uterine life itself, poses the biggest danger to the social as well as economic health of any society, and for this reason alone, it should always be the starting point for helping the underprivileged societies.
Till now, international aid has been disbursed more as a matter of political statement, without any serious concern about the outcomes arising from it. Because of such an approach, the degree of pilferage and misutilization has been high, and the overall impact of aid has virtually been negligible. If the international community really wishes to help the children in Africa, it has to change its approach drastically. The need of the hour is not to just disperse some money or food, but to somehow get the delivery structures created, that can work as self sustainable units to improve the lot of children.
The charitable organizations and multilateral agencies, like USAID, Gates foundation, UNICEF etc have been spending significant resources in improving child health. However, they follow a very heavy top down approach, which does not involve the local community as a major stakeholder. As a result, such aid disbursement never gets owned up by either the community or the Government. The net result is that though there are a lot of inputs, and though the measurable outputs are shown to be satisfactory, but the outcomes and final impacts are far from satisfactory.
The focus on helping children needs to shift from big projects, to a decentralized focus on learning, and community based food supplementation programs. The whole thinking and conceptualization of these programs need to change. The link between a higher family earning and child nutrition needs to be fully appreciated, and the focus needs to be on the family based approach that ultimately helps the children.
Poverty cannot be tackled by aid alone, but health of children can be definitely improved by it. For this purpose, the focus needs to be placed on immunization, nutritional supplementation and primary education. Child health is intricately linked with the education and health of the mother, therefore the mother need to be there. All these principles are already accepted and attempted in the various aid projects. In principle, and in theory, it is difficult to find fault with them, but in practice they don't attain their objectives. One main reason for this is the lack of 'felt need' by the community, which is particularly true for measures like immunization, antenatal care, and health education.
Another area which needs focus is female empowerment. Promoting female education, creating job opportunities for them and assisting them in taking important decisions within the family or outside will enable them to take better care of themselves, and indirectly have a positive impact on child health. To make the program self-sustainable and to have a multiplier effect, microloans based approaches may be an effective option. Improving female education opportunities is another option that can have a major role in the long run.
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