Life is tough for the 800,000 children under the age of fifteen living in Lesotho; three out of five live in acute poverty, 40% of under fives are malnourished with stunted growth, nearly one in three of them is an orphan, and few can expect to live more than 40 years. These child have very poor life opportunities and the future looks equally bleak with the country locked in a downward poverty spiral with a dwindling and sick population seemingly unable to reverse this trend. Children in Lesotho, outside of urban areas, normally live in small, one roomed shacks with thatched or tin roofs (left) and only 16% of households have access to electricity. Where they have both parents their mothers will till the land and fathers will attend to livestock. Others have fathers who travel to South Africa to work in the mines there however these opportunities are now dwindling leading to a rise in unemployment currently standing at around 45% throughout the kingdom. (In general 85% of those working are engaged in agriculture whilst 14% are in industry or service sectors.)
Most children have to walk two hours to school and the same back, often arriving at school unable to concentrate due to malnourishment. Despite this there are high rates of literacy, and, unlike many other African countries, female literacy is considerably higher than male literacy standing at 95.6% and 83.3% respectively. On their return from school many are required to look after sick parents in addition to other chores such as collecting sticks for firewood and replenishing water supplies. Water access itself is becoming a real threat to children living in Lesotho. The World Food Program estimates that about 30% of all water reservoirs in Lesotho have now dried up in a country where only 10% of its land is cultivable.
The ongoing drought conditions have led the United Nations to report that climate change could shrink this even further to just 3% within twenty five years meaning an already poor population will have to further rely on expensive imports when it already is forced to import 65% percent of its annual maize needs and 80% of its annual wheat needs just to ensure the population is fed. Currently Lesotho benefits from international aid to plug this financial gap. Many of the older children head up households and drop out of school to provide for their younger siblings and, inevitably, children caring for children impacts on their psychological development and wellbeing, not least because such children are unlikely to address the health issues of the younger children in a country where access to to health facilities is already scant with five doctors per 100,000 residents and an infant child mortality rate of over 8%.
And as these Lesotho children grow up, they face a real risk of their country facing extinction as AIDS ravages the population of just over 2,000,000. A quarter of all adults have HIV/AIDS and half of all women in the country are infected. Just as disturbing, it is estimated that 12,000 Lesotho children have the virus, not least because 30% of boys report that they have had sex before the age of 15yrs compared with 6% in developed countries. Such sex is often with older, unprotected partners. Many Lesotho children are also being abandoned on the streets. Save the Children in Lesotho reported that relatives are either incapable of looking after them or do not want to be "overburdened by someone's HIV-positive child who is going to die anyway". Many of these children end up living on the streets placing themselves at risk of abuse and sexual exploitation.
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