When looking through vacation advertisement, you must have read that famous line from Mark Twain to describe Mauritius.
“You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” by Mark Twain, from “Following the equator” 1897
The country is heaven at least for those that are comfortably well-off. For most of the inhabitants life can be a struggle to make ends meet. Low wages and rising prices of necessities is exasperating workers’ lives. The recent government budget announced only 3.2% rise for low wage earners which in no way meets the loss due to the cost of living rise. Indeed when you are only getting between Rs. 3,000-6,000 p/month, (Euro 74-148 – USD 98-195), you are continuously battling to make ends meet. Unskilled labour here has a terrible time to find jobs and when employed it usually means without any kind of social security.
Far from the beautiful beaches and luxurious hotels and golf courses there is a people sometimes living with a heavy burden. Families not always able to have three square meals a day. Parents going without so that they can pay expenses for their young one’s education. Having said that, the government has introduced schemes to help families pay higher education fees and student public transport is free.
Nevertheless, in the country, there are still pockets of extreme poverty. Just recently a local radio station made a broadcast plea to come to the aid of a woman and her children having to sleep on the street in cardboard boxes. There are still areas where people live in shanty towns. These are living quarters made of tin shacks and wood which house whole families in a couple of rooms. Usually these have no running water and few have electricity. While the government has introduced housing schemes and built low-cost housing the program to end poverty still has a long way to go.
Add to these social problems the despair of many and you have suicides, alcoholism, drug addiction, increase in domestic violence, child abuse, just to name of few. The worse cases being recorded are violence perpetrated against children resulting in homicides. The government ministry for child protection is being overhauled to make it more efficient in its operation. However, the resources are clearly not enough to meet the present realities.
The gap between rich and poor is growing. The country is faced with a two-speed development process. The poor are left way behind and unable to catch-up to modern society without a boost from the welfare state. This was clear when the government started promoting IT awareness (information technology) and computers for the home. A large part of the population did not have the funds to buy PCs or laptops and others did not have electricity in their home so obviously this was not a priority for them. It is on these occasions that you say to yourself, hey, hang on a minute, these people don’t have the basics and you want them to join the 21st century!
The government eradication of poverty program is still in its infancy and it will take a joint effort with the NGO sector to get to grips with the problem. The people living in poverty need to be accompanied during their transition process. Many are illiterate, therefore unable to formally apply for help or are not aware of the mechanism for social assistance. In other words, if they are not accompanied, housed, assisted and given job training there will not be any progress.
Yes, it is tough for some living in paradise.
Supplement to this blog article dated 21 January 2011. Information from MFPWA (Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association) in an interview given to NewsNow.mu.
What are the main programmes targeting the poor?
The MFPWA has always worked for the vulnerable people in disadvantaged areas. We have our own way to fight poverty. The trends in Mauritius are that the birth rate is high among the poor rather than other classes. There are so many reasons.
Some people who do not work or do not have a fixed job take sex and conceiving babies as a sport. It is a pity to see women very ignorant, with multiple partners, vulnerable and easily exploited due to lack of education.
We wish to eradicate poverty at root level. Each child should get a fair chance to succeed in life. We work for the poor children to be successful adults and not poor adults. We provide services in terms of training, counselling and provision of contraceptives.
We work with the Ministry of Social Integration and Economic Empowerment to eradicate poverty by limiting the number of births in families where there is already a high rate of birth.
The stark reality is that 8% of households here live in poverty, which represents some 106,000 people in a country like Mauritius. There are currently 26,400 poor households across the island.
There are some 7,000 families across the island living on less than Rs4,000 a month and according to the Trust Fund for the Social Integration of Vulnerable Groups, the living standards of the poorest in our society are cause for growing concern.
Seventy-five percent more women are unemployed than men. Most of them are single-parent women. The challenge is to find suitable jobs for them; this is one of the major problems. According to the statistics from Social Security, 6,000 single women parents are registered annually.
Apart from their jobs, we must find a nursery to take care of their children while the mothers are working. In Mauritius there are 23,000 women who are unemployed. We have to deal with this issue as soon as possible so we have to provide a service that will enable them to go out to work.