Orphans and Children Affected by HIV/AIDS

The number of children orphaned because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic face many problems long before the death of their parents or their guardians. Children have to live with a sick parent and watch the parent deteriorate and eventually die. These children often face loss of family and identity, increased malnutrition and reduced opportunities for education. Without adequate care or support many of these children become marginalised, exposed to child labour and sexual abuse and face increased risk of HIV infection.

An AIDS orphan is defined as an under-15 year of age whose mother or both parents died due to AIDS or HIV/AIDS related illnesses. Such orphans are in need of special care even more than those orphaned due to other causes. First, some of them may themselves be HIV positive. Secondly, those who may have a surviving parent are faced with a high probability of having to carry the burden of caring for him/her and subsequently loosing him/her for the same reason. According to UNAIDS, the number of children living with an HIV-positive parent may be even greater than the number of children already orphaned. Thirdly, AIDS orphans are also likely to be stigmatised by the community and the civil society.

Most of the orphans are cared for by extended families. However, with the increase of the number of orphans and the increase of adult mortality and the deteriorating economic situation, extended families are no longer able to cope. Increasingly the children are being cared for by their grandparents and in most cases the grandparents themselves are in need of care. Further, where the extended family finds it too burdensome to look after the orphans, they abandon them to fend for themselves. In this circumstances most of the children drop out of school to earn a living and are exposed to other forms of exploitation and abuse, augmenting the number of street connected children and child workers.

Problems faced by most orphans include lack of food, shelter, clothing and health services, poor guardianship, psychological burden, stigmatisation attached to HIV/AIDS, discrimination, exploitation (both economic/ sexual), and being used as cheap labour by either guardians or employers. Some are also forced into criminal activities.

Under these circumstances the rights of these children continue to be violated. The death of the parents robs the children of the right to parental care, which the extended family is also failing to offer. The right to protection is further reduced by the neglect and exploitation suffered later by the children. The lack of food, shelter, clothing and health care adversely affects the children’s right to survival. Dropping out of school and the lack of a nurturing environment violates the children’s right to development.

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