BANGKOK, THAILAND, 13 July 2004 - By 2010, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to an estimated 50 million orphaned children, and more than a third will have lost one or both parents to AIDS, according to a biennial report on global orphaning released today by USAID, UNAIDS and UNICEF.
Children on the Brink 2004 presents the latest statistics on historical, current and projected numbers of children under age 18 who have been orphaned by AIDS and other causes. The 2004 edition also stresses the importance of very distinct developmental needs that must be met as vulnerable children progress through early and middle childhood to adolescence.
In just two years, between 2001 and 2003, the report states, the global number of children orphaned due to AIDS has risen from 11.5 million to 15 million – the vast majority in Africa. In Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, other regions covered by the report, orphan numbers have dropped by around a tenth since 1990.
“Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are undergoing a tidal wave of orphaning, in varying degrees due to AIDS,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “The report clearly spells out what’s best for children - keeping their parents alive and healthy, ensuring that they get good educations, and strengthening the laws, policies and norms that protect children from exploitation and abuse.”
The epidemic is wreaking havoc on a scale unimagined in sub-Saharan Africa. Home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV and three out of four people dying from AIDS, the proportion of children who have lost parents due to AIDS has risen from just under 2 per cent in 1990 to over 28 per cent in 2003. Since 2000, 3.8 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and by 2010, 18.4 million children – more than one in three orphans – will have lost parents to AIDS.
“This report underscores the critical importance of caring for children affected by AIDS,” said Dr. Anne Peterson, USAID’s assistant administrator for global health. “That’s why President Bush made caring for these children an essential component of his $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.”
In 11 of the 43 countries in the region, more than one in seven children are orphans. In five of those 11 countries, AIDS is the cause of parental death more than 50 per cent of the time.
While HIV prevalence remains low, absolute numbers of orphaned children are much higher in Asia, which has almost four times more children. In 2003, there were 87.6 million orphans due to all causes in Asia, double sub-Saharan Africa’s 43.4 million. Although the proportion of those orphaned due to AIDS is likely to remain small, the authors warn that even slight upward trends in prevalence in mega-population countries like China, India or Indonesia could lead to much greater numbers of orphans due to AIDS.
“With 60 per cent of the world’s population, Asia could soon be faced with a serious orphan crisis unless it takes urgent steps to stop the epidemic in its tracks,” said Dr. Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. “To avoid having millions more children become orphaned due to AIDS, countries must do everything they can to prevent people from becoming newly infected in the first place.”
A framework for the response More than nine out of 10 children affected by HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are living with a surviving parent, sibling or other relative. But these families, most of whom are not receiving any external assistance, are in urgent need of support, the report notes.
The family capacity – whether the head of the household is a widowed parent, an elderly grandparent or a young person – represents the single most important factor in building a protective environment for children who have lost their parents, the authors stress. Without protective laws, child welfare services, social mechanisms and a supportive community, children are at much higher risk of exploitation, abuse, violence and discrimination.
The report calls for the urgent development and expansion of family-based and community-based care for boys and girls who are living outside of family care. Placement in residential institutions is best reserved as a last resort when better care options have not yet been developed or as a temporary measure pending placement in a family, the report states.
The United Nations and many partner organisations have endorsed a framework of action to provide guidance to donor nations and the governments of affected countries to respond to the urgent needs of children affected by HIV and AIDS. The key strategies are to:
• strengthen the capacity of families to protect and care for children by prolonging lives of parents and providing economic, psychosocial and other support; • mobilize and support community-based responses to provide both immediate and long-term support to vulnerable households; • ensure access of orphans and other vulnerable children to essential services, including education, health care and birth registration; • ensure that governments protect the most vulnerable children through improved policy and legislation and by channelling resources to communities; and • raise awareness at all levels through advocacy and social mobilization to create a supportive environment of all children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Key to effective responses is the direct involvement of children and adolescents in planning and implementing efforts to mitigate the impact of AIDS in their communities, the report states.
“Children need more than inspiring words,” said the authors of the report. “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 fulfil the hopes and dreams of all orphans.”