SITEMBILE SIWAWA, Lusaka
CHILDREN in Zambia find themselves at the heart of contradiction. On one hand, they have a range of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights and on the other, Government has shown enough commitment to improve the lives of children by adopting policies like the national child policy.
Yet every day, circumstances of children in Zambia do not mirror anything like the kinds of protection and benefits envisioned by many international treaties Zambia is signatory to.
According to the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report, children consists of 50 percent of the countryâ€™s population.
And a child in Zambia is anyone below the age of 16 years old.
The life of an ordinary child in Zambia has been embroiled in poverty, especially those in rural areas.
Despite Government putting in place policies that can alleviate the lives of children out of poverty, little seems to change and perhaps one of the issues that has not been addressed is the aspect of the budget.
For a long time now, child rights activists have called on a child centred budget to improve the lives of children in Zambia but alas, their pleas have not been heard.
Besides a child friendly budget not only alleviates the lives of children out of poverty but also ensures the advancement of their rights.
The budget is one of Governmentâ€™s most powerful tool and without it the executive would not be able to serve the needs of the country. The budget gives Government financial resources with which to create and maintain the countryâ€™s assets.
However, Government budgeting has always been a preserve of the economists and technocrats.
It is obvious that childrenâ€™s lives are deeply affected by the state budget decisions. This is so, especially in poor or developing countries, where many parents are unable to provide for all the basic needs of their children.
How the state chooses to spend its money has a huge impact on childrenâ€™s living conditions, their care and protection as well as the services and opportunities that are available to them.
Because the state has signed and ratified certain child rights treaties, it also has a legal obligation to set resources aside for the realisation of childrenâ€™s rights.
Failure to have a child centred budget has translated into poor access to essential goods and services, schools, clinics and recreational facilities by children.
More children are deprived of their developmental potential, due to inadequate nutrition. Zambia keeps recording high stunting levels in children due to malnutrition.
Lack of shelter and household care has pushed many children into the streets.
With these challenges, this is why the National Child Budget Network comprising of ten child-focused non-governmental organisations are calling for a child friendly 2016 national budget.
In their submissions to the Ministry of Finance and national planning made available to Daily Mail recently, the network noted that there is greater demand for education, health and social services aimed at childrenâ€™s survival and development.
And this entails allocating huge resources towards child related sectors and this should be an investment towards human development and not as a cost to the nation.
In the 2015 national budget, Zambia is faced with a huge fiscal deficit that currently stands at 6.5 percent of its gross domestic product (ZMW20 billion). This is to say that the projected expenditure is much higher than the countryâ€™s capacity to generate revenue in the 2015 fiscal budget.
In the 2015 National Budget, Government allocated 20 percent of the national budget to the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology, Vocational Training and Early Education.
â€œThe budget should be balanced so that adequate resources are allocated to all relevant budget lines of the education sector. Overall, it has been observed that a large amount of the education budget is spent on personal emolumentsâ€, the statement read in part.
And Media Network on Child Rights and Development executive director Henry Kabwe said in an interview that Government should allocate adequate funds for learners with special education needs especially in the area of early education.
In the health sector, the network proposed that Government should allocate 15 percent towards health in accordance with the Abujaâ€™s Declaration.
â€œFor example, it was observed by the Network that Focussed Ante Natal Care and Safe Motherhood reduced by 39 percent (reduction of ZMW226, 929) in 2015. This is worrisome and we hope this is addressed in the 2016 national budgetâ€, the statement reads.
Nutrition should be viewed as more than just a health issue taking cognisance of the fact that Zambia now faces a double burden of malnutrition with cases of both under nutrition and over nutrition. Current statistics from the Zambia Demographic Health Survey 2013/2014â€™s findings show stunting rates in under-five children at 40 percent.
And Government should consider increasing Social Cash Transfer allocation from 180 million to 296 million Kwacha.
The Network further recommends that adequate allocation should be given to children homes given the rising number of orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia.
Additionally in the 2016 national budget, the network proposes that adequate funding should be allocated to the sector not only to improve water supply but begin to improve on sanitation as well.
SITEMBILE SIWAWA, Lusaka