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Botswana children are vulnerable to ultra-poverty

According to Economist and Managing Consultant – SPECK Dynamics, Sennye Obuseng, Botswana’s national budget for the 2020/21 financial year presented by Minister of Finance and Economic Development Dr Thapelo Matsheka, is only about the economy and has no specific reference to children.

This week, the Civil Society Organizations in Botswana engaged a handful of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), to discuss the national budget which they feel continues to ignore critical issues which are key to infusing children’s rights perspectives in budget debates. The Civil Society is concerned that children in Botswana continue to face a myriad of challenges due to inadequate resource allocations to the health, education, and social service sectors. Increases in allocations have in most cases remained nominal and hardly beneficial to children in real terms.

In his presentation Obuseng put into context the extent to which children, as a stakeholder group, are prioritised or not, in Budget 2020/ 21. He contended that the Children’s Act of 2009, makes clear the obligations of all duty bearers to children as follows: “…the promotion and protection of the rights of the child; …promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development and general well-being of children; the protection and care of children; the establishment of structures to provide for the care, support, protection and rehabilitation of children; and matters concerned therewith.”


Consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC or UNCRC), the Act says a child is anyone under the age of 18. The fulfilment of the aforesaid obligations requires the State as a key duty bearer to develop, resource and implement, appropriate interventions. Taking into account the obligations to children as spelt in the Act, the study focused on three fundamental premises, namely; every nation has a duty to ensure safe passage to productive adulthood for all its children; it is a moral, human rights and self-interest imperative.

Apart from having inalienable rights, including to health, education and development, children are a resource, Obuseng noted. He says however, their utility as a resource depends on adequate and appropriate investments being made in their favour at each stage of their development, failing which they could become liabilities as teenagers and as adults. Strategic government spending on children, and indeed all appropriate spending on children, is the most critical investment in a nation’s future, he contended.

“It is determinative of the quality of a nation’s human capital and its future competitiveness, and by extension, the key social and economic outcomes that drive or define progress and national prosperity, e.g. economic growth, employment, household incomes, poverty and general human welfare,” the study argued. “As Botswana sets its sights on becoming a High-Income Country (HIC), a knowledge economy and a knowledge society in 16 years’ time, one of the critical question to answer is: how is the country investing in its children?

“Finally, it is not only the quantum of per capita resources invested in children that matters, but also the timing. Investment in a child’s development has the most impact when it is made at the right time at every stage in a child’s development. “This includes adequate nutrition and prenatal care for expectant mothers; adequate nutrition, safe water, safe food, immunisation, and access to quality health services including appropriate care by trained health professionals when needed, and appropriate sexual and reproductive health services and information for adolescents and teenagers; and access to quality education for all ages. Question is, are our leaders and planners thinking this way?”

According to Obuseng, there is a dearth of complete and up-to-date information across the priority areas of child welfare in Botswana. Consequently, the analysis on children is often based on information that is several years old. “Even so, it is sufficient to generate a lucid picture of the state of children’s wellbeing in Botswana across the priority areas of poverty, nutrition and health, education and child protection,” he said. The former University of Botswana lecturer said data on child poverty in Botswana is insufficient (not enough coverage) and out of date.

He said available sources present highly inconsistent and incomparable estimates of child poverty, mostly due to conceptual and measurement issues. “The data are consistent in one regard though: Botswana’s children are more vulnerable to poverty than any other population group. That is so because they lack both agency and assets, and therefore depend on others to meet their needs. These needs often go unmet,” he said.

Obuseng says nutrition and health are critical areas of intervention for the promotion of the wellbeing of children and ensuring their safe passage to productive adulthood. Whilst all age groups face nutrition challenges, children are among the most vulnerable. Poor nutrition for children can have dire long-term consequences for “…the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations” as noted by State of the World’s Children 2019 report. 

SOWC 2019 profiles what it calls the triple burden of malnutrition, namely undernutrition, hidden hunger and overweight. It is noted that under nutrition can lead to physical and mental stunting, and heightened risk of poverty as well as leading to wasting and death. “Hidden hunger, or deficiencies in micronutrients such as essential vitamins may lead to poor growth and development, weak immune systems, poor health and heightened risk of premature death,” SOWC 2019 indicated.

“Overweight can result in cardiovascular problems, infections and low self- esteem, obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. According to the State of the World’s Children Report 2019, malnutrition is a global crisis.According to SOWC 2019, the world is experiencing a malnutrition crisis. At least 1 in 3 children under five years of age is under-nourished or overweight, and 1 in 2 children suffer from hidden hunger, undermining the capacity of children to grow and develop to their full potential. 1 in 2 children under five suffer from hidden hunger due to deficiencies in vitamins and other essential micronutrients.

“Almost 200 million children under five suffered from stunting or wasting, whilst at least 340 million suffered from hidden hunger. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children (5-19) years rose from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. The number of stunted children has declined on all continents except in Africa,” the report indicated. The global crisis of malnutrition is Botswana’s crisis as well. According to SOWC 2019, Botswana is among 41 nations that suffer the triple burden of all three forms of malnutrition, namely; underweight, hidden hunger and overweight.

According to the report, 39.9% of Botswana’s children were not growing well in 2018. That means that at least a third of Botswana’s future human capital is at risk of severe destruction. The World Health Organisation’s Botswana Country Nutrition Profile of 2019, indicate that Botswana’s national prevalence rate of under 5 stunting (underweight) was 31.4% in 2007, 6.4 percentage points higher than the developing country average.

The prevalence of under 5 wasting was 7.2%. Low birth weight was 15.6% in 2015, a small improvement from 16.3% in 2000. Significantly, the report suggests that Botswana is not making progress in key areas of nutrition. Worrisomely, there was no up-to-date data on child malnutrition. Education is one of the most important and transformative investments a nation can make in its future. 
Whilst Botswana spends about 27% of its recurrent budget on education, which is by far the highest share of the recurrent expenditure, its development budget allocation does not even make the top six.

“The biggest problem for education in Botswana is performance. The public education system, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of learners, produces poor results,” argued Obuseng. “For instance, in 2019, 37.50% of Junior Certificate candidates obtained Grades C or better (credit grades). In 2018, the comparable figure was 38.00% in 2018. At the BGSE level, credit grade pass rates for 2018 and 2019 exit examinations were, respectively, 19.29% and 20.95%.

“It is safe to say that Botswana has a crisis of investment in children. Botswana is not investing effectively the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, the promotion of the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of children, and the protection and care of children. “The consequences for children, and the economy are dire. Overall, Botswana’s children have very poor prospects of realising their potential because of physical and cognitive development.

“This is manifest in poor performance at school. Ultimately, the ineffective investment in children translates into poor economic and human development outcomes.” Obuseng said under present circumstances, Botswana’s dreams of a knowledge economy, and high-performance 4IR compliant economy are unrealisable given trends in its investment in children.


Obuseng is an experienced development professional. Trained as an economist, with specialisation in Public Finance and Monetary Economics, he taught economics at the University of Botswana for eight years before joining UNDP Botswana as an Economist in 2000 to begin a fifteen year-long career as a development professional, providing policy and strategy advisory services, designing and managing programmes/ projects, undertaking the monitoring and evaluation of development programmes/ projects, doing policy and strategy advocacy work, and providing informed commentary on development.

Members of Parliament also utilised the opportunity to express their concerns. MP for Tonota, Pono Moatlhodi said classrooms in schools across the country are dilapidated thus not conducive for learning. Ngami MP Carter Hikuama said government has the tendency of trying to address the symptoms or outcomes. He said the current recurrent budget cannot impact meaningful change. “This is only to allow them to pay service delivery and keep the system running and functions of the Ministry. The development budget of the same Ministry [Basic Education] is the lowest”, he said.   

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