|Kenyan boys wear sun visors saying 'Anybody Can Get AIDS' in a UNICEF-assisted HIV/AIDS awareness programme in Nairobi.|
NEW YORK, USA, 21 April 2006 – The murder of a 15-year-old orphan stigmatized for living with AIDS has led hundreds of protestors to take to the streets of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The boy, Isaiah Gakuyo, had lost both his mother and grandmother to AIDS-related diseases. He was living with an uncle who allegedly stabbed him to death with a pitch-fork because of his HIV status.
This latest case highlights the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV and AIDS, especially vulnerable children and orphans, in Kenya and worldwide.
“The stigma attached to children living with HIV/AIDS is really an untold story,” said UNICEF Kenya Communication Officer Sara Cameron. “I have spoken to children in parts of Kenya who talk about the stone-throwing, about the taunts by their teachers – the kids who leave schools because they feel that they’re not welcome there, because they’re called names.
“And it’s not only that they’ve been victimized by others outside their families,” continued Ms. Cameron. “They are sometimes victimized by their own families. It’s something that happens here, but also in so many other places.”
More than 10 per cent of Kenya’s 15 million children are orphans, and over 650,000 of them have lost parents to HIV/AIDS.
Orphans are usually taken in by extended family members if those relatives can afford to care for them. Often they are passed around from household to household within the extended family. “We find that every time a child moves from one home to another the likelihood of abuse increases,” said Ms. Cameron. Like other children living with the deadly virus, Isaiah reportedly had been mistreated. At home, for example, his uncle made him use separate utensils from other members of the family.
Kenyan police say they are hunting for the boy’s murderer but protestors have criticized the authorities for inaction and silence in this and similar cases.
Ms. Cameron called the protests that have followed Isaiah’s killing “extraordinary,” adding: “When have you seen any people anywhere in the world coming out on the streets and saying, ‘No, right now that violence against that child, that’s an abomination and that must stop’?”
Campaign against violence
UNICEF has been a key advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in Kenya, guiding policy discussions and implementing programmes to support the government’s efforts. Having operated in the country for over 30 years, UNICEF has a wide range of experience there in health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, and child protection. This experience allows for integrated programmes offering a holistic response to the needs of children affected by HIV.
As part of its response, UNICEF is working with the government on a pilot cash-subsidy scheme that provides about $13 per month directly to households with the most vulnerable children and orphans. The agency is actively promoting formal adoption so that children who become orphans have a permanent family home and protection of their inheritance rights. UNICEF Kenya is also poised to launch a campaign highlighting the problem of violence against children, including those who are stigmatized because of their HIV status or that of their family members.
“The slogan for that campaign is, ‘Be a champion for children’,” said Ms. Cameron. “We’re so hopeful that it is going to be a rallying cry for people all over Kenya to really take a stand and say that they’ll take actions to stop the violence from happening in their own communities.”