Abuja, 15 June 2005. “African Orphans: our collective responsibility”: the theme for this year’s commemoration of the Day of the African Child on June 16 is drawing attention to the tragic situation of millions of orphans throughout the continent. According to a recent study published by UNICEF in 2004, “Children on the Brink”, there were 43 million orphans in Sub-Saharan African in 2003, an increase of more than one-third since 1990.
In Nigeria, a rapid assessment of orphans and vulnerable children conducted in 2004 with UNICEF support revealed that there were about seven millions orphans in 2003 and that 800,000 more orphans were added during that same year. Out of this total number, about 1.8 million are orphaned by HIV-AIDS. With the spread of HIV-AIDS, the number of orphans is expected to increase rapidly in the coming years to 8.2 million by 2010.
“The study shows clearly that Nigeria is facing an emergency situation in which millions of children are in dire need of care and special protection measures”, said Mr Ayalew Abai, UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria. “These children are the most vulnerable of all. The negative impact on the society of orphanhood of so many children is evident through the growing number of children living in the streets, exposed to the worst forms of child labour and child trafficking.”
The low awareness of the general public of the magnitude of the situation of orphans and vulnerable children and the as yet limited response of government accounts for the fact that responses are still mostly confined to families and communities. With the burden of poverty, families and communities cannot cope with an increased number of orphans.
Following a National Conference on orphans and vulnerable children, held in February 2004, a rapid assessment was conducted, leading to the development of a national action plan focusing on policy development, capacity building and planning at all levels. Others areas include increased economic capacity of caregivers and access to basic services for orphaned children, such as education, health and nutrition, protection and social care.
“All children have the right to quality education, health care and protection. Orphans and vulnerable children are not enjoying this right”, said Mr Abai. “This year, the issue of orphans and vulnerable children should be at the forefront of the agenda for policy makers, opinion leaders, media, and development partners in order to scale up the national response on orphans. We need to make sure that they do not suffer a double jeopardy: losing their parents and being utterly neglected by society.”
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