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 You are in: Front Page > In Depth > Children's Rights > A World for Children
A World for Children

"We lived on what we found in the rubbish tip"

Jeanine, 12, Madagascar

Madagascar, in southern Africa, has a population of 15 million people. It has a very low standard of living, partly because its rate of population growth is much higher than its rate of economic growth.

According to The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in 1999, 71% of the people in Madagascar were living in poverty.

Twenty years of economic policies that discouraged private sector investment are also to blame for the island's underdevelopment, which is reflected in lifelong poverty, malnutrition and low levels of schooling.

Life expectancy here is low. Men are expected to live up to 52 years; women, 57. Child mortality is one of the highest in the world.

The situation of poverty is further exacerbated by Madagascar's vulnerability to cyclones. In February 2000, torrential rain and winds brought on by Cyclone Eline caused widespread devastation. Crops and rice fields were destroyed by mudslides, as were homes.

Over 600,000 people were affected, according to official figures. An estimated 137 people died; 10,000 people were left homeless.

Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a three-year loan of $103 million to help Madagascar reduce its poverty, improve its social services and stimulate economic growth.

Poverty has all kinds of knock-on effects - it takes away dignity and prevents schooling.

Article 20 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says a child who has been deprived of a home and a family environment shall receive care and assistance from the government. This right envisions, "... placement in suitable institutions for the care of children."

A project in Madagascar shows that remarkable results can be achieved to restore those rights.

The Akamasoa aid project lies about 10 km from the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo. It provides a programme of temporary housing and rehabilitation for people in extreme poverty.

Some 17,000 families who used to live on rubbish tips have benefited from the programme. Over 9,000 children now attend school there.

Founded by Father Pedro Opeka, the centre co-ordinates five sites with a total population of 13,000 people. It promotes workshops on traditional handicrafts and construction. It also has an agricultural programme.

Jeanine, once a street child, now lives at Akamasoa. Father Pedro took her to the centre at the age of eight, where she began to lead a better and healthier life.

This is her story:
AudioListen to Jeanine's story in Malagasy
Begin Quote
My name is Jeanine. I am 12-years-old.

In the past, my parents used to drug me up. We lived on what we found in the rubbish tip. At the time, I wasn't really aware.

When I was seven, they sent me to school, but then they took me away from school again.

I was eight when Father Pedro took me in. Since then, I've been going to school. I have been fed and clothed...
End Quote

Father Pedro, the founder of the Akamasoa project, describes the life of the children and adults who live in the transitional homes.

Begin Quote
There are more than 9,000 children, including 7,000 who attend school.

We have been looking after these children, together with their families, that is, their fathers and their mothers, though often, it's the mothers on their own.

Indeed, 60 per cent of the mothers who came to Akamasoa asking us to help them, were separated from their husbands, or their husbands were dead.

As for the big changes which have taken place in these children, I would say first and foremost that these children no longer beg. They no longer need to beg. When they see a white person, they say hello spontaneously, their reflex is no longer to ask for something. They no longer need to because they feel that something has changed in their life.

They have regained their dignity, and I think that the mentality is the first thing that has changed, whereby children no longer beg, they expect to have to make an effort to get something.

Another big change is schooling. The fact that 7,000 children have been enrolled in schools - difficult children, children who were used to street life, to living on the rubbish tip - I can tell you that it was an amazing effort we made - my 233 Malagasy co-workers and myself.

We are all to blame for the fact that the number of children on the streets has increased. Indeed, there is a kind of indifference towards this scourge and we are - how shall I put it - defeated before we even try.

We have always stood up to denounce that indifference, which is spreading to all circles in society. Everyone says: We can't do anything. But this is not true; this is not true at all.

In Akamasoa, if we've been able to send 7,000 children to school, without any funding, it is because we believed that something could be done. That is what we are demonstrating now, not through words, but through actions.

So, general indifference is to blame, and then there is a lack of child policies. There is a real need for a more concrete policy for the children on the streets, for the children of poor families, for the children of destitute children. There is a real need for a genuine policy.

Moreover, children in Madagascar should always have a reference to their culture, to their tradition, which is lost now. In the cities of Madagascar, the children on the streets have lost every possible link to their culture, which means that it will be increasingly difficult to help them.

Something must be done.

As for children's health, there are many disabled children who no one looks after.
End Quote
AudioListen to Jeanine's story in Malagasy
Care and Protection
A Voice and Information

Fact According to The State of the World's Children report, published in year 2000, Madagascar has an alarming mortality rate for children under five years (U5MR). The U5MR is a critical indicator of the well being of children.

Fact All the estimates refer to 1998. Madagascar ranks number 25, in terms of highest U5MR. Sierra Leone occupies number 1 in the world, with a death rate of 316 children per year.

Fact Madagascar has a 157 U5MR, compared to the US which has an 8 U5MR. Therefore in Madagascar, it is 19 times greater.

Fact Sweden, Norway and Japan have the lowest indicator - an estimated four children under five die every year.

Fact Children in Madagascar are afflicted by numerous diseases such as schistosomiasis, tuberculosis and leprosy. However, the leading causes of death amongst children are malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea-related diseases and respiratory infections.

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