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Reaping the sour fruits of child neglect

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MKUSA NKHOMA— We, therefore, need to do something in order to protect our children

Elsewhere, in countries such as South Africa, governments put in place mechanisms that ensure that reporting child abuse is compulsory. However, this is not the case in Malawi, a situation that is said to be costing the nation a leg. MANDY PONDANI, WITNESS BANDA and RICHARD CHIROMBO expose the extent of the problem.

Mary, a three-year-old girl from Mzimba North in the Northern Region, is already showing signs of stunting.

The National Statistical Office (NSO) indicates that malnutrition in women and children remains a persistent public health and development challenge in Malawi, such that, according to the 2015–16 Micronutrient Survey Data, 28 percent of children under five are anaemic, as are 20 percent of women.

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It further indicates that, whereas 61 percent of children aged between zero and five months are exclusively breastfed, the figure drops to 34 percent among children aged between four and five months.

The office adds that feeding practices deteriorate as children get older; with only 9 percent of children aged between six and 23 months getting a minimum acceptable diet.

To make matters worse, children under the age of five are underweight, with three percent of them said to be wasted, according to NSO.

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Mary falls in the under-five children category. Her health condition fits the bill of SOS Children’s Village findings in Mzimba North, where researchers found that over 70 percent of families live on the peripheral of society due to escalating levels of poverty.

Out of 395 households that were sampled, the researchers found that about 1,800 children are being raised in families that cannot manage to offer quality care.

Programmes director for the organisation, George Kondowe, indicated that the problem is exacerbated by children’s lack of knowledge on their rights.

“Most children in rural areas have no knowledge of their rights; as such, they are being subjected to untold challenges, mostly due to poverty,” he said.

This means, due to high levels of poverty, some cases go unreported.

And, unlike Southern African Development Community members states such as South Africa, where child abuse reporting was made compulsory in 2010, Malawian children are often exposed to abuse, often without any recourse as compulsory reporting is not enforced.

The issue of compulsory reporting of child abuse cases gained global attention when United Kingdom-born alcoholic mother of four-year-old Hamzah Khan, who died in 2009 from starvation, but whose body was only discovered in 2011, was reported to have abused the child.

What shocked the world was that people such as social workers, teachers and police officers kept quiet, even after the issue was brought to their attention.

In the Rainbow Nation itself, the father of two-year-old Theopollus Groepies was sentenced to 25 years in prison for throwing his son against a wall and killing him.

Chances are, there could be such cases in Malawi but, due to lack of knowledge among people, such problems could be going unaddressed.

However, as Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare Agnes Mkusa Nkhoma has indicated, failure to protect children is costly to the nation.

She said Malawi lost about K245 billion for failing to protect children from various forms of abuse in the year 2019.

The deputy minister said this in Lilongwe Thursday, when she officially launched Day of the African Child.

Mkusa Nkhoma disclosed that a study by her ministry and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) indicates that Malawi lost 4.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 for failing to protect children.

“The recent preliminary analysis by the ministry and Unicef on the cost of inaction on child protection shows that we lost 4.3 percent of the GDP in 2019, which translated into K245 billion.

“This is a very big loss. We, therefore, need to do something in order to protect our children and save resources at the same time,” she said.

Mkusa Nkhoma stressed that violence against children does not just hurt their growth and development but also has huge economic repercussions.

On her part, Save the Children Country Director, Kim Koch, said there was a need to allocate more resources towards children’s programmes in the country’s national budget.

Koch further called for coordinated efforts in addressing problems related to children’s rights.

“There is simply not enough money going into children’s rights issues. It’s not just Save the Children calling for this but children themselves …if we really are going to hold the State accountable for addressing children’s rights, there got to be more money for it and, also, there is a need for more coordination so that the resources are put to best use,” she said.

Day of the African Child falls on June 16 and this year’s theme is ‘Eliminating Harmful Practices that Affect Children: Progress in Policy and Practice since 2013′.

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