Poverty and Human Dignity in Zambia

By Fr. Lawrence Mondoka, OFMConv

Poverty is a big challenge that Zambia faces today. Though, Zambia has recorded positive economic growth, the benefits have not trickled down to the majority of the citizens, particularly in rural areas and the poor families in urban cities. Despite the decline in poverty levels from 60.5 percent to 40.1 percent between 2015 and 2022, poverty still persists in Zambia exacerbated by large the percentage of unemployment, orphanhood, HIV/AIDS, sexual child abuse, human trafficking and child labour.[1] It deprives the poor; it hinders them not to claim any sort of fundamental human rights.

 Poverty is not only a deprivation of basic needs, social services and material resources, but also a violation of human dignity. The most injurious and disturbing aspect of poverty is loss of dignity. The poor are hindered in the exercise of their fundamental freedom and have dignified life. The great majority of people live in condition of extreme poverty, not only violates human dignity, in some situation, it constitutes a threat to the right to life.[2]

Poverty is a human condition that is characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural and social rights. It is a denial of opportunities and choices most basic to human development. It is a condition that reflects physical, social, political deprivation and lack of assets and income. The poor lack material and economic prowess to determine their destinies. Poverty does not only deprives people from having dignified standard of living, but it is also painful; it is like a disease. Poverty attacks a person not only materially but also morally. It eats away one’s dignity and drives one in total despair. Poverty affects the wholeness of the human person.

The poor suffer physical pain that comes with too little food and long hours of work; the emotional pain stemming from the daily humiliations of dependency and lack of power, and the moral pain from being forced to make choices such as whether to pay to save life of an ill family member, pay school fees or use the money to feed their children.[3]

The poor are deprived of their abilities to contribute to the economic growth of their respective families and the country.[4] These deprivations lead the poor to lack basic and social needs such as shelter, clean water and food. It also leads to lack the access to the essential needs such as decent living standard, education, health services and to the national’s resources etc.

The poor’s fundamental human rights, which should be manifested through human dignity, self-confidence and self-respect, are hindered by poverty levels that they find themselves. Poverty is a sign and a cause of dehumanization and deprivation of dignity. The best way to recognize dignity is to ensure that people have access to the basic and essential needs. Human dignity is not defined by the contributions one makes to others or to society, it is not based on one’s concrete life in terms of personality, religion or culture, it is equal and is of fundamental value.

Poverty is not only a moral or political issue but also a legal obligation under International Human Rights law to ensure that all human beings enjoy the basic and adequate nice food, housing, and social services necessary for health dignity and social participation. Poverty has made some Zambians not to have the zeal of voting because they do not see any positive changes. A poor family with no roof above its head cannot choose freely where to reside. They have no resources even to construct a decent house. The lack of resources even deprives some parents of their freedom of movement, as they cannot afford to go and see their children who work in the cities or live in far distant places.[5] Hence, poverty is a mental torture to the poor families.

 The citizens deserve economic, social and cultural rights because there are designed to ensure the protection of people as persons, with dignity not with abject poverty. In fact, the violation of each human right undermines respect for all the others. A denial of the right to housing leads to a formal and practical incapacity not only to enjoy the majority of civil rights but also, to take work to pay someone’s bills, to send one’s children to school and to experience harmony in family relationships. A homeless person repeals others and a homeless family is a subject to reproach because of poverty.

Poverty is always against the value and worth of human beings. This is because it creates a lot of negation and misdeeds among the people. Unemployed persons to survive are ready to do any form of dealings without shame. Poverty has given boost to anti-social activities and the youths are linked with bad gangs, organized crimes, drug abuse. Young girls adopt prostitution for survival.[6]

Zambia is very rich with natural resources, but poor management has left some citizens wallowing in abject poverty. These natural resources need exploitation and good management. Zambian citizens especially the youths and women have great potential to contribute to the developmental growth of the country. The youths have the ability to drive the country’s economy to the standard level. The dignity of human beings is the pinnacle object of each human right that can only be interpreted in the light of other rights. Human dignity and the fundamental human rights define human beings.

Human right is the possibility of living in dignity, keeping the body and soul together while upholding one’s values. It consists of defending the dignity of other people and the fundamental rights and related right of other people.[7] Human rights protect people from being exploited by poverty and acquire a decent standard of living. It consists of the non-fulfilment of a person’s human right to a range of capabilities, potentials, resources, choices, security and power to do the things one values most.

Poverty affects the people in various ways; life expectancy in Zambia is at 64 years. The risk of some women dying from maternal mortality complications is higher. The preventable diseases like malaria, cholera, dysentery, typhoid etc claim the lives of children; poor children are out of school due to non-payments. The HIV/AIDS rate stands at 12 percent, early marriages and pregnancies are at rampant. There are a lot of street kids and orphans. Child labour is common in rural areas etc. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the Southern African region. The maternal mortality in Zambia has been pegged at 649 per 100,000 live birth for almost a decade.[8] Infant and under-five mortality has remained above the 1980 level. Currently, 110 children per 1,000 die before their first birthday compared to 99 in 1980. Maternal mortality rate is high in rural areas because of lack of quality health services.

Education is a critical factor for poverty reduction in Zambia. The literacy rate in Zambia is 76.6 percent for males and 58.3 percent for females. The Government has reduced school fees, in order to avail education chances even to the most vulnerable children.[9] There is need to eradicate poverty because it affects the life of a person holistically. It weakens relations within families and communities and with persons in authority, and thus the capacity from a cycle of deprivation that can endure generations after generations.

The poor are occupied with survival and elementary needs. Work is frequently not available or, when there is any, it is on casual basis, the salary is very low, and conditions are pathetic. Houses are constructed with cheap and simple materials, and have neither water nor sanitation. For the poor, electricity is luxury. In some places especially in rural areas, services are scarcely. They cover long distances to acquire social services. Permanent insecurity and anxiety are the common conditions of the poor  countrywide. They are preoccupation is how to survive and sustain their lives.

There is no any public system of social or economic security in the event of unemployment, only the old people above 65 years have access to social cash, which is nothing compared to the cost of living. Sometimes food, drought or diseases affecting people or livestock destroy the livelihoods of the people. The poor families in Zambia face other economic challenges and problems such as uncertainly, inflation and the fear of unemployment. The income for the poor is hand to mouth; without saving or banking.

The rate of foreign exchange is very high, $1 US Dollar is equivalent to K22 or €1 is equivalent to K25 Zambian currency. The price of fuel is high. The cost of living has become expensive. The prices of the commodities have gone up such as foodstuffs and other basic and essential items. This makes life unbearable among the poor. Life for the poor is greatly a burden and misfortune; it is no longer securable or enjoyable but miserable. The poor in Zambia deserve better living standard. The ultimate aim of development is the constant improvement and well-being of the entire population based on full participation in the process of development and equitable distribution of resources to the citizens. Poverty hinders the poor to contribute to the development of the country. It should be eradicated so that people can live in good living standard that facilitates worthiness of human beings.

[1] A. C.  mukosa, Factors Hindering Retention of Street Children in Institutions of Care: A Case of Lusaka, Ndola, Mission Press 2017, 20.

[2] w. r. alberto, Progress and Poverty Considered in Relation to Cultural and Spiritual Values: Poverty, Progress and Development, P. M. Henry (ed), Paris, UNESCO 1991, 58.

[3] s. konda, Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us? New York, Oxford University Press 2000, 6.

[4]world bank, World Development Report 2000-01:Attacking Poverty, New York, Oxford University Press 2001, 87.

[5] p. henriot, The Challenge of Poverty Eradication in Africa and It’s Relationship to Population and Development: The Zambian Case Study, Ndola,  Mission Press 2003, 14.

[6] L. L. nyirenda, Combating Early Marriages: Child Abuse and Harmful Cultural Practices, Ndola, Mission Press 2016,  33.

[7] d. k. singh, Poverty and Human: A Human Rights Approach, India, Bareilly College Press 2017, 51.

[8] A.  PONGA, Zambia: Strategic Country Gender Assessment: World Bank Report, Ndola, Mission Press 2018, n. 99.

[9] j. zulu, The Challenges and Misfortunes of Poverty in Zambia, Ndola, Mission Press 2013, 15.

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