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HIV/Aids gnaws Mozambique's social fabric

Mozambique, a country torn asunder by a fifteen-year old civil war is devastated by the HIV/Aids scourge that has led to only half of the country's children attending school, a development that threatens the fulfillment, protection and promotion of child rights indirectly, according to UNICEF.
Frank Jomo

A Unicef report posted on its website a few months ago says HIV/Aids is the country's greatest single threat to the well-being of children and women and to the development of the country as a whole. The report says this development has seen the soaring in numbers of child and maternal mortality rates, increased numbers of orphaned children as well as young girls joining the sex industry.

"Children in affected families have dropped out of school either to work or to care for young siblings, thus limiting the realization of their own potential," reads the report adding that small holder families face reduced production, hence the threat of malnutrition, following the loss of labour.

Mozambique is one of the countries in Southern Africa, which has high HIV prevalence. Media reports indicate that as of 2001 HIV prevalence between the productive age group of 15 - 49 is 12.2 percent while the total number of people living with the deadly virus in the same year was pegged at 1, 546, 000.

It is further estimated that there are 600 new infections per day with 25 percent of the new cases recorded among children aged 0-18 years. This means that 150 children in that age group get the virus per day. Like most southern African countries, HIV/Aids has seen the escalating number of orphans orphaned due to the same.

Unicef reports that in 2001 there were 434 000 orphans courtesy of the virus with 52,000 new-borns catching the virus during birth. It is further estimated that by 2010 1, 134 000 children would be orphaned.

This pandemic has greatly impacted upon the education sector in that children who have been orphaned especially girls are made to drop school in order to look after their siblings or get casual jobs so that they should support their families, assuming the role of their parents. In addition the education sector has lost many of its skilled staff, reducing the provision of this service.

Reports indicate that only half of all Mozambican children currently attend school and girls are particularly underrepresented. It is further reported that those children who are eager to attend school are getting poor quality of education due to shortage of staff as well as lack of infrastructure and community involvement. Apart from the HIV/Aids scourge, floods of late have also contributed to the downturn of the education sector.

In a bid to ensure that many children attend school, the government of Mozambique has developed an education sector strategic plan, which provides lines of action to achieve its objectives. The specific strategies include policy support on gender to improve girls' access and retention to school.

In his new-year address to Mozambican people on December 31, Mozambican leader Joachim Chissano said 2004 would see the introduction of a new and more relevant curriculum in primary education in a bid to ensure that more children attend school. Chissano said the new curriculum in particular, will see six year olds start education in their mother tongue, instead of foreign language, Portuguese.

"The shake-up in the curriculum would make a major contribution to our great challenge, which is to promote, in the medium term, education for all Mozambicans," said Chissano.

In addition the government is increasing access to education through improving understanding of the value of keeping girls in school at community, school, district and policy levels as well as strengthening community capacity for school management, creating an enabling environment for peer education and communication among young people in order to create demand for youth friendly health services and building capacity for contingency planning in response to emergencies, among others.

The key activities under this strategy center around support policy discussion and debate on girls' education, HIV/Aids and life skills, impact study on HIV/Aids. It also encompasses the development of HIV/Aids module for distance teacher training programs.

Unicef reports that the major achievement of the current program has been the development of a Gender Action Plan and its inclusion in the national education strategy, and HIV/Aids impact study undertaken by the Ministry of Education.

HIV/Aids has contributed to the country's poor showing economically. It is estimated that 11.3 million people out of the total 16 million live in poverty. However the country wants to cut the poverty trend by half by 2010 and this might be achieved because Mozambique is one of Africa countries, which are a darling of the donor nations.

Due to Mozambique's good government and one that is so transparent the country has outwitted its neighbors in attracting both foreign investment and aid. Donors are pouring millions of dollars in development aid into the coffers of the government. The country's legal and regulatory reforms and her determination to rebuild a country devastated by war and other natural calamities like floods have been her major advertising weapons into tapping aid while her neighbors are walloping in aid freeze.

However, if the HIV/Aids spread is not checked, the fight to halve poverty by 2010 would just be another pipe dream.

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