WINDHOEK / NAIROBI / GENEVA/ NEW YORK, 26 November, 2002 - UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said the global response to the crisis of children orphaned by AIDS is grossly inadequate. Without a greater sense of urgency and collective action, millions more children will put themselves at enormous risk in their struggle to stay alive.
As delegations from 22 Eastern and Southern African countries convened for a five-day meeting in Windhoek, Namibia to consider the actions needed to step-up the response to the orphan crisis in their region, Bellamy emphasized the extraordinary vulnerability of children orphaned by AIDS.
"Almost without exception, children orphaned by AIDS are marginalized, stigmatized, malnourished, uneducated, and psychologically damaged. They are affected by actions over which they have no control and in which they had no part. They deal with the most trauma, face the most dangerous threats and have the least protections. And because of all this, they too are very likely to become HIV-positive."
Today some 3 million children are living with HIV/AIDS. And the disease has killed the mother, father or both parents of 13.4 million children still under the age of 15. The vast majority of these children - 11 million - live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their ranks will soon be swelled by millions of additional children who are living with sick and dying parents. By 2010, the total number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS is expected to nearly double, to 25 million.
What is happening to the children
The limited data available on children orphaned by AIDS presents a grim picture of the reality of their daily lives. Given that the global AIDS pandemic is still in its early stages, there can be no doubt that the growing number of children orphaned by AIDS means the world will see an explosion in the number of child prostitutes, children living on the streets and child domestic workers.
In Zambia, a study in several districts by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shows the majority of children in prostitution are orphans, as are the majority of street children.
In Ethiopia, the majority or child domestic workers in the capital city Addis Ababa are orphans.
In Uganda, focus group discussions revealed that girls orphaned by AIDS were especially vulnerable to sexual abuse at work because of the stigma attached to children orphaned by AIDS.
Studies from numerous regions have shown that orphaned children have substantially lower levels of education.
Promises and Commitments
During the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in June 2001 governments committed to implement national strategies by 2005 to provide a supportive environment for children orphaned by AIDS, as well as other children affected by the disease. However, few countries appear to be on target to achieve this goal. Bellamy urged governments to move with the greatest urgency to implement clear national action plans. She pointed to several successful initiatives that are making a positive difference for children:
In Namibia, the government is adopting legislation to ensure that children orphaned by AIDS continue to have access to schooling. This is bolstered by a national policy on HIV/AIDS in the education sector due to be endorsed at cabinet-level by the year's end.
In Uganda, UWESO (Uganda Women's Effort to Save Orphans), which has nearly 100,000 orphans under its care, is working to empower orphan families with economic independence through access to savings and credit schemes and by providing training in artisan and vocational skills.
In Thailand, the Sanga Metta Project helps religious communities to address the needs of children.
In Brazil, community-based organisations are providing psychosocial assistance to children living with HIV/AIDS.
Bellamy highlighted several actions recommended by key stakeholders at the Africa Leadership Consultation on Orphans held in Johannesburg earlier this year. She stressed these actions could be immediately implemented to trigger a quantum shift in the response the orphans crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. The recommended actions include identifying and assisting orphans who are out of school, and supporting schools as a front-line response for learning and as community resources and safe havens. In addition, the stakeholders agreed that parliamentarians in every country should hold national debates on the orphans crisis to place the issue at the centre of public policy and action. It was further agreed that faith-based organizations and children and young people themselves have a critical role to play in leading the responses to the largest orphans crisis the world has ever seen. Clearly, none of this will be possible without strong and compassionate leadership.
The HIV/AIDS challenge is a top UNICEF priority and will remain at the centre of the organization's efforts to fulfil child rights around the world. UNICEF's response to the crisis of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS pivots on partnerships at all levels. These partnerships include support to governments to develop national policies for orphans and legislation to protect the rights of orphaned children, complemented by the development of innovative community-based programmes to provide care and support for children and families in need.