Rome (Fides Service) – The struggle against HIV/AIDS is one of five priorities for UNICEF which has sounded the alarm with its report “ Africa’s Orphaned Generations”, just released in various countries. AIDS has already orphaned more than 11 million African children, half of whom are between the ages of 10 and 14. It is estimated that by 2010 20 million children under 15 will have lost both their parents. Three quarters of all the people in the world suffering from HIV/AIDS lives in sub-Saharan Africa and at the end of 2002 more than 29 million people had been infected. Of these 10 million were children of whom 3 million were under 15. In this area in 2002 about 2 million adults died of AIDS. Eight out of every ten AIDS orphans live here. This is extremely concerning if we consider that between1990 and 2001 the percentage of AIDS orphans grew from 3,5% to 32%. Countries which will see a greater increase in the number of orphans such as Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland are those where AIDS has already infected 30% of the population. In these three countries and in Zimbabwe more than one in five children will be orphaned by 2010.
Extended families are caring for 90 percent of all orphans. But these networks of social protection are unable to cope with such an emergency and orphans brothers and sisters tend to separated. This traditional form of assistance for orphans has reached the point of collapse and in many countries there are more one parent families cared for by women, grandparents, adolescents which due to poverty are unable to provide assistance for children entrusted to their care
In Malawi, for example almost three out of four children who have lost their fathers still live with their mothers whereas in South Africa most orphans of both parents grow up with their (64%) and in Cameroon 57% of these orphans are cared for by other relations. Generally these families are already among the poorest: in Zimbabwe in 2002 the income of families entrusted with orphans was an average of 31% less than families without orphans. Families headed by women suffer most: in Tanzania, over two thirds live on less than one dollar a day. The problem is that many of the countries most affected, the UNICEF report says, do not have national policies which provide for orphans.
The suffering of children in families infected by AIDS starts before the death of the parents and the first sign is that the child stops going to school. The family’s income drops and school fees cannot be paid. A survey showed that in 400 families in Tanzania, 40% could not afford elementary school fees. In this country only 52% of the orphans go to school. The situation is worsened by scarcity of teachers: in Zambia, for example, teachers il 40% HIV positive, die too quickly to be replaced with newly qualified staff.
Sub Saharan Africa has the highest percentage of children workers in the world: 29% of children between 5 and 14 years is economically active. In many types of work most of those employed are AIDS orphans. In Zambia, for example, it is estimated that AIDS has increased the labour force by 23% to 30%. In Ethiopia more than three quarters of domestic workers are orphans. In Tanzania children used in mines are usually aged between 7 and 17. Children working part time are 7% orphans and 38% of orphans work full time.
But the UNICEF report also offers solutions, affirming that the crisis can be averted by giving immediate support to families and communities. (AP) (27/11/2003 Fides Service; lines:50 words:723)