HIV/AIDS deprives children of their rights. Food consumption in an AIDS-affected household can drop by as much as 40 per cent, leaving children at higher risk of malnutrition and stunting. In Cambodia, a recent joint study by the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance and Family Health International found that about one in five children in AIDS-affected families had been forced to start working in the previous six months to support their family. One in three had to provide care and take on major household tasks. Many had to leave school or forego necessities such as food and clothing. Others were sent away from their home. All of the children had been exposed to high levels of stigma and psychosocial stress, with girls found to be more vulnerable than boys.
Families are affected long before a parent dies, since from the time adults first fall sick they may not be able to work. A study in eastern Zimbabwe concluded that there were significant losses of income and capital associated with terminal illness. Further pressure is exerted on these often meagre incomes by increased health-care costs and, eventually, by funeral costs. In the same study in Zimbabwe, these amounted to around half of the yearly average per capita income.
Because of these financial pressures, many children whose families are affected by HIV/AIDS, especially girls, are forced to drop out of school in order to work or care for their families and they face an increased risk of engaging in hazardous labour and of being otherwise exploited. Children working to support their families do so at the expense not only of their education but also of rest, play and recreation. They lose out on the opportunity to participate in their community, in their religion and in cultural activities and sports. The loss of these rights means that, in effect, many children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS miss out on their childhood.