According to UNICEF, ‘child protection’ refers to preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children – including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour and harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage.
In Botswana, UNICEF’s support to child protection focuses on children who are uniquely vulnerable to these abuses, such as when living without parental care and those in conflict with the law. Birth registration is an important first step, and, as of 2007, 38% of children have no birth certificate.
In 2007, approximately 160,000 (22% of all children under-18) were orphaned, the majority by the effects of HIV and AIDS, i.e. one or both of their parents were deceased. Of these, a total of 45,816 orphans were registered with the Department of Social Services as at end of March 2010, falling to 42, 969 in March 2011 and about 50,000 more children were registered as vulnerable because of other factors. UNICEF is supporting the government to provide more effective – and efficient – social protection for these children and to support their families to move out of dependency.
Data from the Central Statistics Office has found that, in 2005/6, 3% of households (i.e. ten thousand households) are headed by children. 8.5% of children between the ages of 7-17 were engaged in formal work in the previous week. Reliable data on child trafficking is hard to collect, but the government is taking measures to make sure that Botswana’s vulnerability to such trafficking is not exploited. Households with children are more likely to be below the poverty line in 2002/3 (33.2%) than the average household (30.6% of all households).
In the Botswana context, an additional form of protection – the protection of children and adolescents from HIV - is of paramount importance. The government has made prevention of HIV transmission an absolute priority. HIV prevalence among boys and girls is almost the same for up to 14 years of age. However, among the age groups 15-19 and 20-24 years girls are twice likely to be infected as boys.
For adolescents, the low level of understanding of HIV and the ways to protect themselves is apparent: By 2008, in Botswana, only 43% of young people aged 15-24 years had comprehensive knowledge of HIV, far below the Botswana Universal Access and 2001 UNGASS targets of 50% and 95% by 2010. Almost half of adolescents could not correctly identify the most common misconceptions about HIV and AIDS transmission in Botswana. Many boys and girls are not aware of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with HIV infection. Lack of knowledge is therefore one of the major factors making young people vulnerable to HIV infection.