We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Life skills

Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children

By the end of 2001, nearly 14 million children in the world had lost one or both parents due to AIDS.(1)   By 2010, this number is expected to jump to 25 million.(2)   HIV/AIDS is undermining child survival and development and is increasing the vulnerability of children in unprecedented ways and scale. In the most affected countries, HIV/AIDS is severely weakening the capacities of families and communities to provide care and protection for their children. Governments have not adequately responded to the crisis with protection and support for orphans and families affected by HIV/AIDS.

While communities have responded to the crisis with tremendous resilience and have absorbed orphans principally within the extended family system, there is evidence that families are struggling under the strain, which is reducing their capacity to provide and care for orphaned children. Some households are having an especially difficult time coping. Households headed by elderly people and women, for example, who already live at the edge of poverty, must stretch their meagre resources even further. Households made up of children, often struggle to survive, dependent on each other and particular on older siblings. Existing programmes for education, as well as health, nutrition, emergency and social support need to be expanded to monitor, identify and extend the delivery of quality services to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). 

Education and Life Skills for OVC

HIV/AIDS is threatening to reverse decades of progress achieved in providing basic social services, including education, for children and young people.  The death or illness of parents as first line caretakers compromises children’s rights to opportunities that are critical to improve their life chances.  For example, children may stop attending school in order to assist with caregiving, food production and other household responsibilities.  Children may be withdrawn from school because they are unable to pay the school fees and other educational costs. Psychosocial trauma linked to fear and anxiety during a parent’s illness, grief over death, or discrimination due to HIV/AIDS stigma or being orphaned may also cause children to drop out of school.

To help ensure that orphans and vulnerable children receive education, programmes should promote regular school attendance, with particular attention given to girls’ education and the constraints that prevent them from attending school. Schools should be strengthened to serve as community resources and information centres.  The schools’ physical infrastructure and human resources (teachers, students and parents) can assist in training and skills development and in promoting increased access to quality basic education for all children. Psychosocial care and counselling can be incorporated into programme activities such as Integrated ECD, community and school-based efforts to provide emotional support to vulnerable children and adolescents.  There is a particularly important need to strengthen life skills-based education – not only to reduce vulnerability to HIV infection, but also including life skills related to living with HIV affected families, including caring for sick family members and sibling care.

Key Actions

There are several key lines of action in the response to the challenge of ensuring education for orphans and vulnerable children.

  • Provide technical and logistical support to the education system to mount outreach campaign programmes to seek and enrol out-of-school and school dropout children, and devise strategies for retaining and monitor their learning achievements, especially for girls.
  • Support training of teachers and school heads to identify OVC and their families, and to facilitate prompt follow-up home visits when the children miss school, especially girls.
  • In the most affected countries, collaborate with the World Food Programme (WFP) to support school-feeding programmes as an emergency measure to address the nutritional requirements of children and improve learning capacities, school enrolment and retention, especially for girls.
  • Support schools with extra-curricula materials and skills development programmes such as computer and other vocational skills, and sports/recreation to keep children in school for a larger portion of the day, partially as a protection strategy against exploitation and abuse, especially for girls. Furthermore, the right to recreation is often in greater jeopardy among OVC.
  • Support campaigns that target communities to keep children, especially girls, in school, and ensure that schools are a safe haven and protect children and adolescents from sexual exploitation/abuse.
  • Make sure that orphans and vulnerable children have access to knowledge, life skills, services and a safe and supportive environment.

1. UNAIDS/ Report on the Global HIV Epidemic 2002.
2. UNICEF/USAID/UNAIDS (2002) Children on the Brink 2002: A joint Report on Orphan Estimates and Program Strategies.



New enhanced search