Children in Zimbabwe face "unbearable" suffering, ranging from malnutrition and lack of health care to the threat of rape and violence, the British-based charity Save the Children said Saturday.
As the African country goes to the polls this weekend, the charity said Zimbabwe's six million children are among the most vulnerable in the world, with HIV/AIDS a constant threat which has made a record number orphans.
Advertisement"Children are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe," said Rachel Pounds, the charity's director in Zimbabwe.
"Children are going hungry and suffering from illness because they can't get enough clean water to drink. Their families can't afford to get them help when they are sick and one in 10 children will not make it to their fifth birthday."
And she added: "The misery is compounded by high rates of HIV and AIDS ... Zimbabwe's children are some of the most vulnerable in the world."
"Daily life for most children in Zimbabwe has become unbearable," she said.
Veteran President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 28 years, is hoping for re-election for a sixth term in polls which opposition forces and human rights groups fear are fixed in advance.
The election comes at a time when Zimbabwe is grappling with the impact of the world's highest rate of inflation -- officially put at 100,580.2 percent -- and an unemployment level which has breached the 80 percent mark.
Once seen as southern Africa's breadbasket, the country is now suffering from previously unheard-of shortages of even the most basic foodstuffs such as cooking oil and bread.
Mugabe has blamed the economic chaos on the West which imposed sanctions intended to only hit his inner circle after he allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election.
Save the Children, which has been operating in Zimbabwe for 25 years, also highlighted the hundreds of children illegally crossing the Zimbabwe border every week to find work in neighbouring countries.
"Many risk rape and violence, or subject themselves to highly dangerous work such as mining or prostitution, to get money back to their families inside Zimbabwe," it said.
Amid drought, flooding and poor farming policies, a recent survey of 60,000 under-fives found that around 30 per cent of children in rural areas were suffering from long-term malnutrition, it added.