Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have expired and world leaders have already moved on to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted during a United Nations General Assembly last October. Our senior news analyst EPHRAIM NYONDO engages social commentator Chimwemwe Hara who conducted an assessment of how the Malawian child is being short-changed by one-size-fits-all solutions on the global arena. Titled ‘Africa’s Vulnerable Children and MDGs, the paper highlights lived experiences and long-coming interventions to close the gap between policymaking and life-making actions. Excerpts.
You did an assessment of the MDGs. In a nutshell, what are you advancing?
The paper follows the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] in 2015 where the country’s performance in attaining the goals dealing with child poverty was not very satisfactory in comparison with other sub-Saharan African countries. Among other factors, this is attributed to the universal application of targets that made progress in some regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, look like a failure if the target was not reached.
There was also a lack of context-specific considerations of challenges and opportunities. The MDGs sought to deal with the issue of child poverty through the ‘global child’ which had the effect of obscuring the children’s lived realities in diverse settings. For the impoverished Malawian children, adequate consideration was not given to the complexity of the problems that bring about and sustain their impoverishment. Therefore, it is imperative to focus analysis on the Malawian child to understand and address the uniquely configured set of challenges for ending child poverty in the country. The ‘global child is problematic’ when it evokes an impulse to transcend scale and distance to directly save the impoverished Malawian child.
How do you define a Malawian child? What does it mean to be a child in this country?
Malawi, being a country where the majority of the people are rural-based and deriving their livelihood from subsistence farming, the Malawian child is one coming from such a household and whose age is below 18. Food insecurity is one challenge facing the Malawian child.
Through subsistence farming, the households have limited access to cash income as they harvest little or no surpluses. Many households are vulnerable to hunger owing to natural disasters, loss of family labour due to illness, changing weather patterns and other contingent events. Food insecurity affects the health of the children both in the short and long term, limits their ability to learn, creates demands on children to contribute to the household economies among other things. Access to education is another problem besetting the Malawian child. Free primary education notwithstanding, prohibitive costs [uniforms, books and transport], poor quality [buildings, class sizes, teachers’ skills levels] and competing demands on children’s time [earning income, farming, household chores, providing care] are barriers to school attendance.
Is that all?
Besides, the Malawian child has to contend with the problem of infectious diseases. HIV and Aids and malaria are the major culprits. HIV and Aids has not only resulted in the death of parents and guardians but also in a large number of children living with the disease. Malaria has is responsible for the bulk of under five deaths in Malawi. These three factors coupled with inadequate social services results in child abuse, exploitation and violence in particular among orphans and vulnerable children.
Your study also highlights how other countries on the continent have put in place key policies to improve the welfare of children. Can you share some of the best practices?
In Africa, Kenya and Ghana have good policies which empowers the youth and also address their political, social-economic development.
Malawi is signatory to a number of International legal instruments of protecting our children. Locally, there are many policies and laws that also aims to achieve that. As a researcher, where is the mismatch between the written goodwill and the harsh reality on the ground?
There is indeed a mismatch between the theoretical goodwill and the reality on the ground. For instance, the coordinated global action led by the MDGs brought little improvement to most children in Malawi, where poverty deepened over the same period that rapid progress was being made elsewhere in the developing world. While the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II) is rooted in the global child discourse and MDG priorities for addressing child poverty and outlines priorities and strategic areas for development but then it not designed to provide specific policies and programs to achieve the MDGs. As a nation we seem to be content in just having policies and laws in place but then fail to put in place the requisite programs as well as structures that would enable the policies and laws to bring about the desired results.
Now that we know we did not do well on MDGs on children and we have just adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), what measures are your recommending to government?
As the government pursues the attainment of the sustainable development adequate to consideration has to be given to the country’s historic, cultural as well as political development. The Malawian context has to be given thorough scrutiny. Oftentimes, the lack of political will has rendered useless many good policies and laws that the government has come up with or endorsed. As such the government should give adequate political support to the SDGs. The government should also ensure that this vision (SDGs) is shared by relevant stakeholders and the general population.
Any more insights?
As a country committed to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) by 2030, we need to be reminded that sustainable development is not a “fixed state of harmony.” Rather, it is an ongoing process of evolution in which people take actions leading to development that meets their current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We need to implement these SDGs as a nation taking in mind the fact that we are unique in our own way and we should set our goals according to the status quo of our country.