Are We Meeting Our Responsibility to Children?

Looking at the state of the great majority of Zambian children, we are forced to ask the question, "Are we meeting our responsibility, as a nation, to these children?" The answer is a categorical NO, we are not meeting our responsibility to the Zambian children. And in trying to address this crisis, we must confront the moral or ethical failure which is at the heart of this problem.

We do have a moral or ethical responsibility to these children. They are the most vulnerable inhabitants of our country, and it falls to us the more powerful to protect and nurture them. However, the problem is whether we recognise this moral or ethical responsibility and give it priority over other concerns. Morality or ethics is ultimately about self-interest versus interests of others. It is about what priority we give to particular obligations or actions.

In our private actions, it is about what we do with the time- and with our wealth that has come from our work, from our birth. Do we use our wealth- or some of it- to aid others rather than for our own interests or pleasures? So it is also for the nation and its people. To honour a moral or ethical responsibility to children, we must value children in need more than our own pleasure, more than other priorities that clamour for our attention. It is about being committed to more than one's personal interest. To put the interest of children as a top priority takes leadership and courage. We say this because one would always confront those who think their own interests should take priority over interests of children.

We need to give priority to protecting and advancing the rights of our children. We shouldn't forget that the actions, or inaction, of government impact children more strongly than any other group in our nation. Practically every area of government policy- education, public health and so on and so forth, affects children to some degree. Short-sighted policymaking that fails to take children into account has a negative impact on the future of all the citizens of this country but giving rise to policies that cannot work.

The plight of our children is rarely considered in our political process. Children don't have vote and do not otherwise take part in the political processes of our country. Many of the policies and programmes we are adopting are having a disproportionate negative impact on our children. They are transforming the family structure, shifting employment patterns and shrinking the social welfare net in our country and are having very strong impact on our children. The health development of our children is crucial to the future well being of our nation. And because children are still developing, they are a specially vulnerable - more so than adults - to poor living conditions such as poverty, inadequate health care, nutrition, safe water, housing and environment pollution. The effects of disease, malnutrition and poverty threaten the future of our children and therefore, the future of our country. The costs to the country of failing its children are huge.

Children's earliest experiences significantly influence their future development. The course of their development determines their contribution, or cost, to the nation over the course of their lives. A child who is fed and educated can grow up to defend himself and his family, can become an economic producer and can advocate for his or her own rights. He or she needs less future aids and can even contribute to the welfare of others. A child in desperate need and without hope is more easily exploited. Clearly, there is need for our leaders to make the commitment to children a key part of their personal ethics and philosophy, their public advocacy, and their legislative and executive agenda.

It is often said that the future belongs to our children. But it will be impossible to construct that future for our children without laying a solid foundation for them now. If we are to talk about constructing a future for our children, that future has to be built now on the threshold of today's life and realities. Truly the future belongs to our children and it has to be built now. But looking at this year's budget and other government policies and programmes it is clear that we are not in any serous way attempting to build a future for our children. We cannot build a solid foundation for our children with such low budgetary allocations to education and health. Education and health have to be top priority of our country. What we have allocated to health and education is just a small increment which falls far below what is actually required to improve these sectors.

There is need for our government to realise that our children are the most important natural resource and more attention should be paid to their development. We must prepare them for the future. In this regard, one of our top priorities should be to give them a good education and a good health care. This means that our children should be treated in accordance with our aspirations. We say this because our children are the malleable clay from which the future our country can be built. The basic clay of our work should be our children and we should place our hope in them and prepare them to take the baton from our hands. So it has to be, so it should be, and so it will be because our children are human beings destined to live in a more complex world than we are currently living.

We agree with Child Relief Switzerland secretary general Peter Brey's observation that a government that fails to guarantee basic needs for its people, especially children, is dysfunctional. Any government should be able to guarantee the proper development of children. There is need for government to assume responsibility to addressing the welfare of the so many vulnerable and orphaned children of our country. Our government has to make sure it guarantees the development of these children through education and health care, among other things. Our government must determine how it wants to nurture its children.

The policies and programmes of our government should be made to benefit our children. There is a lot that needs to be done and that can be done by our government to improve the desperate conditions of our children.

Editorial: The Post
28 March 2006



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