Most children in Eritrea are born into poor families that rely upon subsistence farming to survive. With the vast majority of the population living in rural, often mountainous villages, access to health care and education remains a challenge and the government, to some extent, has used teaching staff as mini health care professionals. There are some 2,368,000 children in Eritrea, 18,000 of whom have been orphaned by AIDS, with over three thousand infected themselves, although by African standards these rates are fairly low with only 0.8% of the overall population infected.
Just 22% of children in Eritrea have access to safe water, whilst a mere 13% have access to sanitation facilities leading to regular epidemics of diarrhoea, malaria, and respiratory infections. The infant mortality rate is a staggering 55%. Poverty is also widespread with 81% of children in rural areas living in families with an income of less than £123 per year per person. There are three types of school for children in Eritrea, elementary from 6-11yrs, junior from 11-15 and high school from 15 -20, however most children go to school either in the morning or afternoon as there are a lack of qualified teachers and actual schools for all children to attend at once. Enrolment in elementary school is just 35.3%. and the average child who does attend has six years worth of schooling. Around 58.6% of the population are literate, however only 47.6% of girls.
All children in Eritrea as they become adults are required to undertake national service for a minimum of twelve months however often the period of enlistment is much longer than that, with one in every fifteen Eritrean citizens in the armed forces such is the country's distrust of neighbour Ethiopia.
Children are often rounded up for national service on the streets and their parents imprisoned if they attempt to escape. One opposition website summarised life for children in Eritrea as they "have no educational and career prospects, and the only thing they can look forward to is a lifetime of quiet servitude." Neither are children in Eritrea provided much protection by the law which only makes illegal corporal punishment against children under the age of 15 which seriously endangers their physical and mental health. This means, in practice, that violence against children both and home and school is generally considered acceptable with little or no awareness of its impact on children's development. This video documentary about the lives of children in Eritrea attempts to provide a more positive view of how children live in Eritrea each day.
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Information about the growing crisis of street children in Africa escaping poverty and violence.
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