Orphanhood in Africa: Old Problems and New Faces

  • Child-Headed Households
Pages: 58
Year of Publication: 2009
Country: Africa

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has continued to be one of the world’s most dreadful challenges for more than two decades now. It has claimed the lives of 25 million people in the world. In 2007, about 22.5 million people were living with the virus in Africa. In that same year, some 1.7 million people were newly infected with HIV, while 2.1 million people died of AIDS, 1.6 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s epidemics vary significantly from country to country in both scale and scope. Adult national HIV prevalence is below 2 per cent in several countries of West and Central Africa, as well as in the horn of Africa, but exceeded 15 per cent in seven Southern African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) in 2007.

Africa also counts a large number of children living with HIV. At the end of 2007, an estimated 2 million children were living with the virus in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that 6 per cent of deaths of children in Africa are due to HIV/AIDS. It has also been estimated that 1,900 children are born with HIV every day in Africa.

Unlike other regions, the majority of people (61%) living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are girls and women. The vulnerability of women and girls is compounded by their low socioeconomic status that compromises their ability to negotiate safe sex, as well as by other factors like polygamy, scarification and female genital cutting.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is tearing away at the social, cultural and economic fabric of families, communities and nations. It is resulting in distorted population structures, low life expectancy and declining economic growth.

The epidemic also generates huge welfare losses as social institutions and services become overwhelmed and are further weakened when teachers and providers of health and other services become ill or die. Botswana, for example, lost 17 per cent of its healthcare workforce due to AIDS between 1999 and 2005.

The greatest tragedy wrought by the epidemic has been the staggering population of orphans left behind in the wake of parental death in large numbers. In 2005, an estimated 12 million children had lost one or both parents to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Once left parentless, some orphans are absorbed by the extended family, while others make their way into institutional care or onto the street. But many of them establish as a household where the eldest sibling takes the household headship in what is termed child-headed household.

In addition to the grievous emotional scar left by the loss of loving parents that takes years to heal, the lives of orphaned children are inundated with a plethora of social and economic challenges including high morbidity, mortality and exclusion from health and education services. Orphans are also more likely to lose their rights to housing and other property and more likely to be driven onto the streets.

Language: English
Published by: African Child Policy Forum (ACPF)
Author: Shimeles Tsegaye
Located in: Publications

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