By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK WITH the growing challenge of HIV/AIDS orphans, malnutrition, extreme poverty and an escalation of violence, the future of children in Namibia looks bleak. This is according to the “State of the World’s Children Report 2006”, that includes a special supplement on the country entitled “Namibia’s Most Vulnerable Children – Excluded and Invisible?” The report was launched in Windhoek yesterday by the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Marlene Mungunda. Lately, it has become apparent the most vulnerable children in the country are those in poor households who lack access to sufficient food, proper care and education. While there are currently 80 000 registered orphans and vulnerable children in the country, this number is expected to increase to 250 000 by 2021. Official statistics indicate that only 26 percent of children under 15 years of age are living with both their parents, while the rest are attributed to the growing number of orphans and vulnerable children and child-headed homes due to AIDS. Even after 15 years of independence, young people are more at risk of being exposed to violence and abuse, both inside and outside their homes. This has ultimately led to numerous children who are on the brink of vulnerability to be excluded or to become invisible. Mungunda said more concrete action should be taken to address the plight of the country’s future leaders. “For too long, too many people, especially the poor masses have been excluded and become invisible… where are we as leaders, where are we that so many children are suffering? Let’s take action now,” she said. From the newly launched report, which sheds light on the state of the world’s neglected children, it becomes apparent that HIV/AIDS is still the most crippling challenge for the world and Namibia is no exception. The disease is the leading cause of death in Namibia, where it has reduced life expectancy to between 30 and 40 years. With an estimated 250 000 orphans under the age of 15 by 2021, the crisis can be considered as one of the major developmental challenges facing the country. It is said that extreme poverty in Namibia will worsen with the growing Aids pandemic. Minister Mungunda added that as a result of the pandemic, a “high number of girls are still required to abandon their formal education to care for the sick, the elderly and especially relatives affected by the problems of poverty, teenage pregnancy and HIV/Aids.” “This disease HIV/Aids is a monster! It is destructive and our children are the ones to remain behind to look after their siblings.” According to the Namibian supplement, child mortality rates are decreasing, but by 2021 infant mortality is expected to be 60 percent higher than it would have been without AIDS. Another serious problem on the health scene is that of malnutrition among children, which is greater among the historically disadvantaged San communities. The minister said that for a long time, these Namibians have been “invisible and excluded. They are invisible in the sense that for a long time, they have not been registered and counted in national statistics. They have been excluded because they could not and still do not have access to services, because they cannot produce national documents that would qualify them for assistance.” In view of this, the minister said that the calling by Government to change Namibia’s status from being a “lower middle income country” must be taken seriously because “the richest 7 000 Namibians spend as much as the 800 000 poorest.” On the issue of violence against women and children, a growing social concern highlighted in the report, the Gender Minister was just appalled by the latest turn of events. “We have the ugliest stories of violence, cooking people, beheading and killing young people. We are not even safe in our own homes,” added the minister. The Namibian report states that gender based violence suffered by women and girls and degrading attitudes of being seen as “property” are widespread. Acting UNICEF country representative Rushnan Murtaza said that poverty and inequality, weak governance, uncontrolled spread of major diseases like HIV/Aids, armed conflict and discrimination are the breeding ground for the exclusion of children. She explained that the violation of children’s rights, exploitation of young people and depriving them of family support are some of the contributing factors that make children invisible in society, especially for the disadvantaged San people. “The increased vulnerability due to the HIV/Aids disease compounded with situations of marginalization of some communities like the San, violence and abuse of girls and women are some of the immediate and serious threats in terms of exclusion of children in Namibia,” she explained. The launch of the report was epitomized by girl child Belsi da Cruz who called upon all Namibians to work towards addressing the plight of children for a brighter future. “I call upon law-makers, government and the community leaders, faith-based organisations and development partners to help us actualise our human rights, develop our talents and thus guarantee our survival and future,” said da Cruz on behalf of Namibian children. The launch of the State of the World’s Children Report in Namibia yesterday coincided with the beginning of UNICEF’s 60th anniversary.
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