Protection, care and support for affected and vulnerable children
By the end of 2005, there were an estimated 20 million orphans living in West & Central Africa. The devastating effects of poverty and violence that plague the region are often responsible, but it is thought that at least 21% of these orphans can blame AIDS. The problem shows no signs of abating. In Sub Saharan Africa, the number of children orphaned by AIDS increased from less than 1 million in 1990 to more than 12 million in 2003. By 2010, without concerted global action, more than 18 million African children will be orphaned by AIDS.
As the disease evolves and kills, it also fuels poverty and despair among children and adolescents and stretches family and community resources to their limits. For example, the death of just one wage-earning family member in Côte d’Ivoire lowers the average household income by more than half. Many children put themselves into highly exploitative situations just to survive. Young girls are most at risk: they are often unable to protect themselves physically, socially or economically. They are also often the first to be taken out of school when family household resources become scarce. Because of the ignorance and denial that cloak the disease, children whose parents have died from AIDS are often stigmatized and singled out for abuse in the places where they seek support and care. They may be harshly treated in foster homes, denied access to schooling and health care, stripped of their inheritance, and left to fend for themselves on the streets.
In collaboration with governments and key partners in the region, UNICEF hopes to increase to at least 30% the number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) receiving care, support and protection. UNICEF is advocating to governments to leverage resources and harness political will. UNICEF is also helping to ensure that countries conduct rapid assessments and develop actionable national plans. There is evidence that programs are successfully taking root, and a number of examples stand out in the region.
Cote d’Ivoire has established its first voluntary testing and counseling center, which provides a range of services including access to ART, pediatric care, nutritional and psychosocial support, systematic registration of children of HIV+ parents, payment of school fees, and support for livelihoods through training and income generating activities. But demand has already exceeded the center’s capacity. In Bangui, Central African Republic, at least 2,000 OVCs living in the streets have benefited from health care, outreach counseling, orientation services and educational follow-up and literacy programs. Approximately 300 children have been reintegrated into school or vocational training and 250 have rejoined their extended families. In Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF supports orphans and vulnerable children through the training of outreach volunteers and social workers, by subsidizing school fees, books and medical supplies and providing seed funding to families for income generating activities. In each country, UNICEF is helping to ensure holistic, integrated responses at the district level.