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Impact on children: care and support for orphans and vulnerable children

© UNICEF/UnitedKingdom
The Gaba boys kicking around a ball with their pal, Robbie Williams.


Care and Support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC)

The number of orphans in South Africa is growing. A UNAIDS estimate sets the total at two million, half of whom have lost their mother, father or both parents to AIDS.

About 40,000 of the nation’s households headed by children receive home and community-based care, but thousands more remain unreached. 

Many children do not have birth certificates and so are not eligible for social grants.  Others are not even aware that they are entitled to assistance.  Most orphans are taken care of by extended families, many of whom are themselves struggling under the strain, especially those headed by elderly people and women who already live at the edge of poverty. Orphans and vulnerable children tend to live in poorer households and their school enrolment rates tend to be lower than for other children.


Support for Community Safety Networks for OVC
UNICEF’s overall aim is to ensure that 25% more orphans and vulnerable children, especially those who are vulnerable as a result of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, are able to access  essential social services to support their survival and development.
Our new country programme aims to contribute to increasing coverage of community and home based care, support and protection to 70% of OVCs, and to assist the Department of Social Development to better coordinate and monitor OVC. Four municipalities have been target to track and register OVC, thereby increasing the number of them who can access available services. 

UNICEF is also working closely with the Department of Social Development and civil society to carry out activities in three main areas: Research to inform policies for vulnerable children; supporting community safety networks for OVC; coordinating services for OVC.

The community is best placed to care for its children, but the increasing burden of the AIDS epidemic means that it requires considerable outside help for it to cope.

Community safety networks meet a critical need for the interface between vulnerable children, caregivers and available social services. When children and families deal with extreme poverty, sick parents, orphans many sick and dying neighbours, etc, the suffering often bars them from being able to access state provided services.

UNICEF is committed to ensuring that provincial and district levels have coordination mechanisms in place that not only replicate but inform the work of the National Association of Child Care Workers (NACCW). 

Community safety networks, like NACCW, care for OVC, providing a much needed interface between children, their caregivers and available social services in the communities where children live. They identify the children, help them apply for social grants, get medical treatment and in some cases feed, bathe, and clothe the children and help provide them with time for recreation and play.  UNICEF supports the National Association of Child Care Workers, best known for its and ISIBINDI child care programmes, which care for children in their own life spaces.


Turning life around for the Gaba* family child headed household

In the semi rural township of Umbumbulo , with its open spaces and picturesque rondavel traditional dwellings, children slide down the grassy hillsides on sheets of cardboard with gleeful abandon.

But this picture of rural beauty and simplicity belies a darker endemic poverty that has beset the town for generations -- its newest victims, hundreds of children who have lost their parents due to AIDS.

The child headed Gaba family, Mboniseni 18, Mlungisi 14 and their two younger sisters, Balungile aged 9 and 6 year-old Khethiwe live in this area. 

In their home province, KwaZulu Natal, half of the province’s population, some 4 million, are children. In this province too, HIV and AIDS rates are the highest in country, especially among women, and death and funerals are familiar daily occurrences.

Both Gaba parents are now deceased and lay buried in the family garden right next to the children’s home. Like several other children in their close knit community, the Gaba siblings stayed home to take care of their parents as they languished, demonstrating remarkable strength, patience, resilience and loyalty beyond their young years.  

Sadly, after Dad passed away, then Mom shortly after, daily living conditions only got worse for the children. Without parental care and supervision, community members say, the children just wandered aimlessly around the village surrounds searching for food, consolation and friendship.  They very rarely attended school and their health soon deteriorated due to constant hunger and malnutrition.

It was then that concerned neighbours contacted a local social worker who asked the ISIBINIDI child care workers to assist the orphaned children.

Today, the sparsely furnished Gaba home is clean, comfortable and well maintained by the children themselves, who readily admit that it is not nearly as good as their Mom would have done. “But it’s OK for us,” says little Khethiwe.  “Look, I have a pretty doll!”   A child care worker translated from Zulu for the UNICEF team, while her brother kicked a new football, a gift from the team.

The ISIBIDI child care worker has also taught the children how to problem solve, cook, wash their clothes, budget, maintain personal hygiene and discipline, including homework, and how to access food parcels and food vouchers.  Though the children have attempted to plant a food garden, they have not been very successful.  But best of all they are back in school. 

With the new information from the social worker, the oldest boy who recently turned 18, is about to take a big step forward as head of the family.  He has applied to become the official legal guardian of his siblings following which he will be eligible to apply for a foster care grant of about ZAR1,500 per month. 

Though his first expense payment will be to repay the kind neighbours who collectively loaned the children R1,450 to pay for their mother’s burial and funeral, he is elated. “Life is slowly turning around.  It’s getting better,” he says.

* name changed





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