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Maternal orphan surveillance system to assist in meeting the needs of the vulnerable

06 December 2010, Pretoria…UNICEF has commended the Government of South Africa for its development of a maternal orphan surveillance system, to identify maternal orphans in the country. South Africa has a disproportionate number of orphans - 25 per cent of children in South Africa have lost one or both parents.

A report on the surveillance system, launched on 2 December by the Hon. Dlamini, Minister of Social Development, shows that between 2003 and September 2010, just over 1 million children in the country lost their mothers. Numerous studies worldwide have shown that in addition to the trauma and psycho-social stress, the loss of a parent – specifically a mother – makes children particularly vulnerable and at risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation.

Over the years, the lack of reliable data on the number of orphans and vulnerable children in the country has been one the key challenges. It is in this context that the Department of Social Department in partnership with UNICEF undertook this study with the view to identify and compile reliable estimates of number of orphans,” said Minister Dlamini.

The success of the surveillance system lies in the fact that it generates information about the real number of maternal orphans and where they are located. By linking with data from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) it is also possible to ascertain whether the children are benefitting from any social grants. This means that appropriate protective services can be targeted to reach the children.

The report highlights the magnitude of loss to our children and society as a whole. The largest proportion of maternal orphans is aged between five and nine years; however since 2003, over 278,000 children aged between zero and four were orphaned, making them especially vulnerable to health problems and death. The report also examines the ages of the mothers at the time of their deaths, suggesting that a large proportion of the children might also be losing the breadwinners in the households.

“In the context of seeking equity, the surveillance system will provide the data that stakeholders need to reach one of the most vulnerable groups of children in the country,” said UNICEF South Africa Representative, Ms. Aida Girma.

“I would like to encourage the South African government and all their civil society partners to continue moving towards efficient, focused and scaled-up programmes to ensure that the rights of orphans are prioritized and protected,” said Ms. Girma.

The launch of the report formed part of World AIDS Day commemorations in the KwaZulu-Natal province, which had also included community dialogues facilitated by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Dr. Radebe, MEC for Social Development preceded the Minister’s address with hopeful comments to the community about impending integrated services in the province, encouraged people to know their status and to accept people who are HIV positive. Dr. Radebe also strongly admonished sexual abuse, speaking directly to the men.

An estimated two thirds (22,5 of the 33,3 million) of adults and children living with HIV are from Sub-Saharan Africa. Although new infections are decreasing, the total number of people living with HIV continues to rise as does the number of orphans. UNAIDS estimates that there are just over 17 million children world-wide who have lost one or both parents due to HIV related deaths and in South Africa alone this number is at least 1,5 million.
South Africa has made significant progress in reducing the number of children born HIV positive through improvements in Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission programmes, and with increasing numbers of people on treatment, the hopes are that this will reduce the rate of orphanhood in the coming years.

UNICEF is committed locally and globally to the fight against HIV and AIDS and will continue to assist Government in its efforts to reduce new infections and provide the best possible treatment and care for those living with the virus.

Download the press release [PDF]

Statement by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini on the occasion of the launch [External link]

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