In spite of recent growth, Zambia remains of the poorest countries in Africa
The Republic of Zambia's total population is 14.1 million, of which roughly 50 per cent are under the age of 14. While Zambia was once a thriving copper producing nation until gaining independence in 1964; after this the economy deteriorated and it became one of the poorest countries in Africa. Zambia's political mismanagement and declining copper prices on the world market have been cited as the main reasons for the problems that the country has been facing.
Low life expectancy and high levels of poverty persist
When copper prices collapsed in the 1960s, Zambia's economic situation deteriorated rapidly. More than 60 per cent of the Zambian population now live in poverty. In rural zones, poverty levels are particularly high and access to even the most basic services such as running water, sanitation and decent housing is limited. Despite the abundance of fertile land, Zambia experiences food shortages on a regular basis. The urban/rural poverty gap has been growing even further over recent years.
Investment in social protection is a central aspect in Zambia's national development plan, which outlines the government's vision regarding poverty reduction strategies. However, its implementation remains a challenge. Quite often, households that are heavily affected by poverty are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, droughts and floods and changes in agricultural policies. Because of the social and economic environment, life expectancy in the country remains low at only 55 years. The extent to which the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been affecting Zambia is particularly worrying: at 12.7 per cent, the HIV-prevalence rate is among the highest in Africa. HIV/AIDS therefore remains a major public health concern in Zambia.
Children are in urgent need of protection
Children in Zambia represent a highly vulnerable segment of population. Children in special need of protection include those who have lost their parents, as well as those who have been neglected by their families, abused or pushed into harsh forms of labour that may include illicit drug peddling and petty work. Young girls are often forced to engage in commercial sex work in order to raise income for their families.
Although the legislative framework to protect Zambian children exists and is well stipulated, reality has shown that violations of children's rights remain one of Zambia's biggest challenges. The main causes for child rights violations in Zambia are families who have broken down and their socioeconomic situation. 1,400,000 children in Zambia have lost either one or both of their parents. For children without parental care and those at risk of losing it, access to education remains difficult. Without education, the vicious circle that many children and adolescents experience is likely to continue once they become adults.
Over recent years, a number of campaigns aiming to reduce maternal and infant mortality have been launched. Current figures show that some of these campaigns have turned out to be successful: maternal mortality decreased noticeably to 440 per 100,000 live births. 670,000 Zambian children have been orphaned due to AIDS, a disease which remains one of the country's most pressing public health concerns. In Zambia, an estimated 490,000 women are HIV-positive. To prevent the mother-to-child-transmission of HIV via rigorous testing procedures and treatment programmes has been a health-care priority in Zambia. However, every day, a high number of children are born with HIV. Many of them die before their second birthday if they don't receive adequate treatment.
SOS Children's Villages in Zambia
In 1996, the national Zambian SOS Children's Villages association "SOS Zambia Trust" was founded. The organisation was provided with a plot of land in Lusaka, just a few kilometres from the city centre where we started working. At present, SOS Children's Villages is supporting Zambian children and adolescents in four different locations by providing day care, education, medical assistance and vocational training. The main focus of the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in the country is the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Zambian families affected by HIV/AIDS are supported by our organisation in order to strengthen existing family ties and enable children who are at risk of losing parental care to grow up within a caring family environment. Children who cannot be taken care of by their own family can find a loving home in one of the SOS families.