Children's Voice Oct/Nov 2005

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It Takes a Global Village

Aids and the Millions of Vulnerable Children Left Behind

A girl orphaned by AIDS reads, sharing a floor mat with her foster mother in Kitwe, Zambia. Photo courtesy of UNICEF/Ciacomo Pirozzi (c) 1998For decades, AIDS has taken a devastating toll on the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. For the children in this region, thousands have lost their lives too soon, and millions more have become parentless.

The numbers are staggering. Worldwide, 14 million children under age 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. This number is expected to exceed 25 million by 2010, according to UNICEF. By some accounts, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, which is home to 24 of the 25 countries with the world's highest levels of HIV prevalence, AIDS has killed one or both parents of an estimated 12 million children. Experts predict that in 12 African countries, orphans will comprise 15% of all children under age 15 by 2010.

Compounding the problem for Africa's orphaned young are the millions of deaths of the adults who could have cared for them. Whole family support structures are eroding due to AIDS, leaving orphaned children more vulnerable than usual to physical and emotional damage, and further burdening caregivers, many of whom tend to be grandparents and other elderly members of extended families. In many cases, orphans are forced to head their own households.

In Zambia, while a woman sweeps and another child stands nearby, brothers wash clothes outside the house where they live with a foster family since being orphaned by AIDS. Photo courtesy of UNICEF/Ciacomo Pirozzi (c) 1998 As a result, AIDS is leaving millions of orphans worldwide at greater risk of becoming victims of violence, exploitative child labor, discrimination, and other abuses. Unaccompanied girls are at especially high risk of sexual abuse, which, in turn, increases their likelihood of becoming HIV-positive. In Zambia, a study by the International Labour Organisation shows most children in prostitution are orphans, as are most street children.

In a speech in South Africa in 2003, former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said,
These children need more than inspiring words. They need leadership that touches their lives directly. They need action that is taken to scale--action that grows out of a unified and targeted strategy that will protect, respect, and fulfill the rights of all orphans . . .In the face of this crisis, all of us have an obligation to mobilize commitment and to help build the capacity to act.
Efforts to provide supports to orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS have increased in recent years. In the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, countries vowed to develop national policies and strategies that build and strengthen the ability of governments, communities, and families to support orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS.

A teacher helps a girl with a lesson at the Linda Community School, Livingstone, Zambia. Photo courtesy of UNICEF/Ciacomo Pirozzi (c) 1998In 2004, the UNAIDS Committee of Cosponsoring Organizations endorsed a Framework for the Protection, Care, and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children Living in a World with HIV and AIDS, a document outlining how best to respond to the growing number of orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

On the local level in sub-Saharan Africa, organizations are regularly sprouting up to meet the needs of AIDS victims and the children left behind. For example, in Uganda, where, according to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate has been declining, the Uganda Women's Effort to Save Orphans is helping communities start income-generating projects such as beekeeping or sustainable farming. Another Ugandan organization, Action for Children, has been conducting the Grannies Project to support grandparents looking after grandchildren who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS by providing early childhood development programs for children under 8 years old.

Two sisters do homework in the doorway of their house in Uganda. The two girls and another sister have been living with their blind grandmother since their parents died of AIDS two years ago. Photo courtesy of UNICEF/Ciacomo Pirozzi (c) 1998.Despite the many challenges they face, most organizations believe that young people are the key to turning back the disease. According to UNICEF, prevalence rates--from sub-Saharan Africa to South East Asia and the Americas--are falling among young people who have been equipped and motivated to make safe behavioral decisions that block the spread of HIV. Even so, AIDS education is still far from universal.

In sub-Saharan Africa, UNAIDS estimates only 8% of out-of-school young people, and slightly more of those in school, have access to education on prevention.

To learn more, visit the UNAIDS website, UNICEF, or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Other resources include:
  • Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children Support Toolkit: A CD-Rom and Web Site for NGOs and CBOs. Released by Family Health International and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in 2004, this toolkit offers more than 300 resources and supporting information on how to assist orphans and other vulnerable children. It is downloadable at www.ovcsupport.net.

  • Africa's Orphaned Generations. This 52-page report, published by UNAIDS and UNICEF in 2003, provides data and analysis on caring practices, coping mechanisms, and the effect of orphaning on children, families, and communities. Available at www.unicef.org/media/files/orphans.pdf.
Photos courtesy of UNICEF/Ciacomo Pirozzi (c) 1998


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