Perspectives: Debt and the welfare of children in Zimbabwe

These rights cover things like food, housing, medical care, safety, a home free from abuse, and a suitable education.

There has been consensus both domestically and internationally that Zimbabwe's debt is unmanageable.

It is stated that the current debt crisis is the result of a complex of reasons including the budgetary irresponsibility and inadequate debt management, and that financial outflows from the country in the form of debt servicing and repayments deprive the populace of essential services required under the social contract.

Children are particularly affected by these debt difficulties.

Public investments, such as those in children, can be financed in part by borrowing money, hence, doing it isn't always a bad idea.

Article 4 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) implies a rationale for borrowing to finance public investments in children.

To the fullest extent of their resources, state parties are urged by the article to implement all necessary legislative, administrative, and other measures to fulfill child rights within the framework of international cooperation.

This could entail prudent borrowing to pay for public expenditures on education.

But if done carelessly, it can lead to an unmanageable debt load that has a detrimental impact on children.

According to a Save the Children research, Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, pays back about $13.5 billion in debt annually.

Governments that have a lot of debt may not have much money left over to spend more on children.

Consequently, governments should take advantage of borrowing opportunities to increase their investment in children, but they should do so within frameworks that are accountable and sustainable.

To begin with, on the plus side, when governments are strapped for funds, borrowing is frequently required to maintain investments in the provision of basic services. In the event that existing revenues are insufficient to cover their spending demands, borrowing from domestic and foreign sources is a perfectly common practice for governments everywhere.

There is a claim that during periods of extreme economic shock like the coronavirus pandemic, borrowing—especially on favourable terms—can mean the difference between life and death.

Aljazeera reported in January 2024 that the total amount of governmental and private debt in the world had hit a record US$ 307 billion in 2023.

The amount of debt owed by African governments has increased since 2001 (Amnesty International 2024).

In sub-Saharan Africa, sovereign debt represents over 60% of GDP on average.

A debt crisis is looming for at least 23 low-income African nations, with servicing costs on their external debt exceeding US$68 billion (Afrodad 2024).

 Interest rates and payback amounts have skyrocketed along with the overall debt, which has an impact on governments' capacity to meet their citizens' human rights demands.

Save the Children in 2022 identified debt as one of the main issues with nations' capacity to uphold their commitments under the right to education.

Regarding Zimbabwe, the financial crisis has reduced the country's fiscal room and adversely impacted the central government's ability to fulfil its policy and legal responsibilities to protect children's rights.

The responsibilities are outlined in both local and international agreements, which require the state to enact laws and policies that guarantee the interests of the children to come first in all circumstances pertaining to them.

These rights cover things like food, housing, medical care, safety, a home free from abuse, and a suitable education.

In Zimbabwe, the effects of mounting debt are disastrous for children.

Since debt service costs eat up available fiscal space, an increase in the burden of repaying debt has been linked to a slowdown in expenditure in the social sector.

The government is having difficulty meeting its debt servicing obligations due to the excessive weight of the national debt.

Economic development has slowed as a result, and public spending has been curtailed child protection, health care, and education.

Children's social, economic, civil, and political rights are now being sacrificed as a result.

Consequently, there is a rise in Zimbabwean instances involving violations of children's rights.

 Poverty, forced child prostitution, and underage marriages are all growing more frequently. Since they are human, children are entitled to certain rights.

 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides them with protection.

However, despite this rich background and information on child rights instruments and improvements through the Zimbabwean laws that have allowed the welfare of the majority of children to improve, worrying child rights violations continue to plague the nation.

In Zimbabwe, an estimated 60.7% of all children live in multi-dimensional poverty, according to a Unicef report from 2021.

A large number of children lack appropriate access to food, shelter, and water because poverty is pervasive in the country.

There hasn't been much of a change in this pattern during the last ten years. The current droughts, which are the worst in our history, will make this worse.

To lessen the impact of debt on the welfare of children in Zimbabwe, important parties must develop a number of initiatives.

For example, lending and debt management policies ought to be in the best interests of borrowers and the communities they represent, especially the younger generation, as well as creditors.

Respecting the tenets and recommendations for responsible debt management is expected of all parties.

To protect children's best interests, the government should also evaluate how debt management practices affect children's rights.

The focus of macroeconomic policy should progressively be shifted by the government from reliance on aid and borrowing beyond capacity in order to assure a stronger emphasis on sustainable domestic revenue mobilisation, particularly through taxation.

In addition, lending organisations must accept accountability for their previous errors.

Demanding repayment of loans made to the government, the majority of which were utilized for political reasons, is an unfair practice by lenders. Debt resulting from these careless loans needs to be cancelled.

Prioritising the use of saved funds should go toward funding vital areas like social protection, health care, and education.


  • Artwell Dzobo is a policy analyst.
  • These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society  and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. Email- [email protected] or Mobile +263 772 382 852

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