Zambia has been ranked 147th out of the 175 countries in the world with the highest levels of children missing out on their childhood due to poor health, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS infections and extreme violence.

According to the latest Save the Children second annual end of childhood index, living conditions for children appear considerably worse in about 40 countries, including Zambia where childhood poverty has increasingly been concentrated among the poorest of children.

Save the Children Acting country director Krista Kruft explained on the sidelines of the launch of the latest report last week that a lot of children in Zambia and the world at large, lost their childhood and robbed of their dreams because of poverty and infection, discrimination against girls and violence.

“Children continue to be excluded from progress, especially those children living in marginalized, vulnerable populations. There is need for government to put in extra effort to address further exclusion of children which is caused mainly by threats such as conflict, poverty and gender discrimination. This is if the world is going to achieve the sustainable development goals and reach them in an equitable way. Disabled children are especially vulnerable, especially when disability is combined with one or more of the threats highlighted in our report [dubbed] ‘the Many Faces of Exclusion’.

Thirty one per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, in some provinces, this is as high as 60 per cent. 60 per cent of 19 year old Zambian girls have begun bearing children. Thirty two per cent of 15-19 year Zambian girls experience physical and sexual violence, this rate increases to 46 per cent for women aged 20-24 years. Thirty per cent of five-14 year-old children are engaged in child labour, mostly in the agricultural sector. And a staggering 77 per cent of the rural population live in poverty. Nationally, Forty per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty while 40 per cent of all children under the age of five in Zambia are stunted. One in every 22 Zambian children dies of preventable infections like pneumonia before their first birthday and one in every 13 does not survive to his or her first birthday. ANBout 12.4 per cent of the population are people living with HIV infections. This is the 7th highest rate globally and 94,000 children are living with HIV/AIDS.”

Kruft called on government to work with its cooperating partners in raising the necessary resources to invest them in the country’s young population in order to secure a better Zambia.

“Government and its cooperating partners need to raise the necessary resources and invest them in Zambia’s young population, which is over 50 per cent of the total population. It will be the youth and the children who will lead Zambia to a successful future and envisioned in the Smart Zambia transformation agenda 2064 and and in the SDG 2030. Government must also make special effort to ensure that these resources reach the most excluded children, particularly girls and refugees. Government must also ensure that all children have access to gender sensitive quality basic services such as education, health and nutrition. Protection and social protection services and ensure that all children are treated equally. We continue to look forward to that time when all children in Zambia will enjoy their childhood and their full sets of rights,” said Kruft.

In the report, of all the sampled countries, Singapore has been ranked number one in the terms of the countries with the fewest children missing out on their childhood.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Youth, Sports and Child Development Permanent Secretary Joe Kapembwa disclosed that government had already come up with measures to arrest the challenges affecting the livelihood of Zambian children.

“Government attaches great importance to the wellbeing and rights of children, children and young people play a very important role in our developmental agenda and as government, we are working towards ensuring that all children are protected. We believe that neglecting the rights of children puts the future of our country at risk of poverty and underdevelopment, it is therefore important that we address challenges of poverty, health, shelter nutrition, water and sanitation which are usually faced by children,” said Kapembwa.

“In addressing some of these concerns, government has embarked on the implementation of programmes like expansion of services through construction of health facilities, schools, sinking of boreholes and strengthening of social protection systems.”