Graça Machel

Governments have failed children orphaned by AIDS

Africa's governments are failing children affected by HIV/AIDS - up to 65 percent of countries in sub-Saharan Africa have no national policy in place to care for orphans and vulnerable children, a new UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) report has found. According to the report Africa's Orphaned Generations, the cultural practice of the extended family caring for orphans has so far relieved the pressure on governments and national institutions, but this was slowly unravelling. Families had become overstressed and overwhelmed, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy told journalists at the release of the report on Wednesday in Johannesburg. Orphaned children could no longer remain invisible, shielded by their extended families. It has been too easy for government leaders to assume that the extended families will take on this burden, Bellamy said. Child rights activist Graca Machel, who attended the launch of the report, reiterated the need for African governments to play a greater role. In light of the commitments made by African leaders at the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS to develop national policies by 2003, the failure of countries to respond was even more disappointing, UNAIDS deputy director Kathleen Cravero pointed out. The numbers presented in the UNICEF report sound an urgent alarm for action. More than 11 million African children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, more than one in five children will be without their parents by 2010. Although some governments had introduced orphan policies, there were still a lot of barriers to be overcome before they reached those hardest-hit, Machel noted. She called for new thinking on the way people affected by the epidemic - particularly children - were treated. Paying attention to their emotional and psychological needs was one of the most difficult issues we have to deal with. The UNICEF report recommended interventions that would encompass more than the material needs of families caring for orphans. Psychosocial support is an essential, but often overlooked, service ... early intervention is vital. The Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative [http://www.repssi.org/] is a project featured in the report as an example of how to address these needs. This technical resource network brings together over 30 organisations in eastern and southern Africa and aims to offer psychosocial support to over 25,000 children over the next five years. The report concluded with an outline of the responses needed from African governments and the international community to alter the course of the crisis. Nevertheless, it pointed out, the family remained the single most important factor in building a protective environment for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.(Source: PLUSNEWS 26 November2003). Full report: http://www.unicef.org/media/files/orphans.pdf