Lensman reveals plight of children
Matungera lives with her great-grandchildren Fernando, Julio and Samuel in remote Tete province. Picture: Mark Lehn

Mozambique teenager Loben Duncalo can only dream of seeing the light these days.

The basic privilege was unfairly taken from him at the age of 10 when his neighbours took him into the forest and removed his eyeballs and genitals.

The teenager, whose father had passed away and whose mother has a mental illness, was then taken to a farm, covered in banana leaves and left to die.

Authorities caught the neighbours across the border in Malawi, where witchcraft is a known practice, as they tried to sell the organs on the black market.

Now 13, Loben attends the Institute for the Blind in Beira and, after receiving aid, will soon have an operation that should ease the pain he experiences every time he goes to the toilet.

It is the stories of children such as Loben that Perth photographer Mark Lehn wants to spread far and wide to help the children of Mozambique.

Lehn has travelled to the south-east African nation twice this year with the United Nations Children's Fund to document the plight of children living in households headed by children or the elderly.

The powerful images are being used to raise awareness of the issues the vulnerable households face and to mobilise resources to support interventions.

He said a family he met on his first visit had maggots growing inside their legs and arms because of a flea infestation. Six of seven family members were affected. The family was led by a 50-year-old widow and survived on the wage of one of her three daughters who worked as a maid. When Lehn returned seven months later, efforts to treat the infestation had failed.

Lehn, who plans to return to Mozambique next year to see progress, said he was introduced to the problems faced by households headed by children or grandmothers when he was doing a project on HIV in Ethiopia five years ago.

He said today's Universal Children's Day was an important time to spread the word about children such as Loben to bring attention to the enormous needs of the population and to make sure children could live free from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.

Lehn said many families he met in February had seen their lives improve before his September visit.

"I think you can make a difference with photos," he said. "A lot of children just fend for themselves.

"These situations, and many more like them where families and children go without assistance, highlight the need for continued awareness raising to ensure basic needs are met.

"It's good to realise that every child has the right to clean water and a roof over their head, even if they don't have a mother or father any more."

Contact Unicef at unicef.org.au

The West Australian

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