Is this Africa’s century? We are experiencing the most rapid economic expansion in more than half a century. But Africa’s future, its rise and sustained properity is inextricable bound to child-focused investment strategies.
The poorest 20 per cent of Africa’s children are twice as likely as the richest 20 per cent to be stunted due to poor nutrition and to die before their 5th birthday. This inequality extends beyond childhood. Those who survive will have have less years of schooling and earn signficantly less. It is unconsciuonable that in the 21st century the future of an African child is subject to the lottery of where she is born; whether her parents are educated, have a decent job and can afford nutritous food, provide decent shelter and pay for her health and education.
Today there are more stunted children in Africa than there were 20 years ago. Eradicating stunting in is a critical for equitable and inclusive development in Africa. Africa must harnes its demographic dividend –,enlist an army of healthy educated children; boys and girls; rich and poor, urban and rural, christian and muslim, disabled and not disabled – to deliver inclusive development and claim its place in the league table of middle income economies.
The prevalence of stunting is Africa is estimated at about 36 per cent. Under-nutrition causes 45% of all child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa – 3.1 million deaths annually. Compared with normal children, stunted children: score 7 percent lower on math tests; are 19 percent less likely to read a simple sentence at age 8, and 12 percent less likely to write a simple sentence; and, are 13 percent less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.
The cost of Hunger study a joint initiative by the African Union Commission, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and World Food Program shows that stunted children achieve up to 1.2 years less in school education. Moreover, 7-16 per cent of grade repetitions are associated with stunting.
In a survey of 350,000 children in Kenya Uganda and Tanzania, Uwezo found that 2 out of every 3 children in grade 3 failed to pass basic tests in English, Kiswahili or numeracy set at the level of grade 2. More importantly, the study revealed that children from poor households perform worse at all ages. And, remember that children born in poor households are twice as likely as the richest 20 percent to be stunted. Circumstances of birth matter, and yes poor health outcomes and socio-economic wellbeing can be handed down from parent to progeny.
A majority of Africa’s children are raised in rural households, where livelihood is derived from subsistence agriculture or pastoralism, which are vulnerable to climate change. It is projected the impacts of climate change on agriculture and pastoral systems could cause the number of malnourished Africans to rise to from 132 million to 220 million by 2050.
Given the prevalence of stunting owing to poverty and malnutrition, millions of children are out of school and a majority of children entering pre-school and primary school have critical early-life growth failure, with adverse consequences on cognitive capacity. Malnutrition, stunting and poor learning outcomes have far reaching consequences. According to the Cost of Hunger in Africa study, 40-67 per cent of the working population was stunted as children. Moreover, the annual cost associated with under nutrition ranges between 1.9 and 16.5 per cent of GDP in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Swaziland.
HIV/AIDS has a disproportionate impact on Africa. However, little attention has been paid to the psychosocial and economic effects of HIV/AIDS on Africa’s children. Half of the world’s population living with HIV/AIDS lives in Eastern and Southern Africa. The region has 48 per cent of the world’s new infections among adults and 55 per cent among children. In 2011, 90 per cent of pregnant women with HIV/AIDS resided in Eastern and Southern Africa. Moreover, the region has 10.5 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
The African Development Banks estimates the cost of closing Africa’s infrastructure gap at USD 360 billion, with significant investments required by 2020. But nobody knows the cost of closing the opportunity and flourishing gap for the African child. Stalked by hunger, malnutrition and disease, and staggered by poverty and lack of opportunity, the future of the Africa’s children is dire.
Africa will reap the future it sows for its children.