Pandemic will rob three million children of parents in next 10 years, bringing spectre of social chaos and an even higher crime rate
South Africa is sitting on an AIDS orphan time bomb that could unleash a tidal wave of crime and civil unrest: up to three million children will be
orphaned within the next 10 years.
The burgeoning orphan population, which will grow up under extreme levels of poverty, will be sorely tempted - or even obliged for its physical
survival - to turn to crime, drugs, gangs and the sex trade, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said.
Three hundred thousand children have already lost their mothers to AIDS. Yet, according to a case study conducted by the University of Natal's health
economics and HIV/AIDS research division for a Unicef global study, the orphan epidemic is still in its infancy and over the next few years
is expected to grow devastating proportions.
In developing countries 2,5 percent of the population were orphaned before the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In South Africa this figure is expected to rise to
almost 17 percent by 2010. It is estimated that 10 000 children currently live or work on the streets of South Africa. This figure is set to rise
Growing up without a parent or parents, and badly supervised by relatives and welfare organisations, orphans were both more prone to committing crime
and more vulnerable to falling victim to crime, said Martin Schönteich, a senior ISS researcher and co-author of an African Security Review article
Africa's new security threat: HIV/AIDS and human security in southern Africa.
In South Africa, a large orphan population will exert an upward pressure on levels of interpersonal crime, including murder, violent assault and rape,
Schönteich told The Sunday Independent. The likelihood of the temptation to commit property-related offences, often
to just survive, will mean an increase in theft of food, clothing, and breaking into motor vehicles.
We know that HIV/AIDS will make South Africa poorer at a macro level," Schönteich said.
At a household level the impact will be even more acute, because once a breadwinner dies, the economic impact on the children left behind can be
Households with one or more members who have HIV/AIDS are much poorer than others. Children living on the streets is their only means of survival will
themselves be particularly vulnerable to abuse and, in turn, to contracting HIV.
A study on orphans and child-headed households by the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund has found that orphans showed a very strong inclination to
want to continue their schooling, appearing to be far more conscious of the value of education to ensure a better future for themselves.
Unfortunately, these children are often compelled to leave school to look after their siblings. With projections suggesting that about one in five
children of school-going age in South Africa will be orphaned by 2010, school dropout rates can be expected to increase.
This may mean that orphaned children constitute an entire generation of disenfranchised young people, the University of Natal study said,
implying that our incremental improvement in matriculation rates are likely to be
reversed. The traditional African safety net, the extended family, will probably not
be able to absorb overwhelming numbers of orphans.
The children's fund survey, covering 20 townships and villages in four provinces, said the orphans themselves identified their priority needs as
the most immediate basics: food, clothing and education. The level of deprivation in respect of these basic needs was so deeply
felt that many children shed tears when they spoke about these needs ... even as
we spoke to them, a good number of these children [some as young as four to five years old] had gone for days without food.
Some wept as they spoke about the humiliation of begging for food from neighbours. Some spoke of
being ridiculed by teachers and other children because they did not have school uniforms or because their parents had died
from AIDS. Debbie Bradshaw, a Medical Research Council (MRC) researcher, said little
could be done to reduce the number of these children in the short-term, other than introducing a national antiretroviral treatment programme.
A large number of people are already infected with HIV and will progress to AIDS, illness and death. Unless something is done to prevent this, they are
going to die and not be around to look after their kids. The MRC has called for increased development of and support for
community-based care projects, and the expansion of state assistance to those caring for orphaned children.
According to an MRC policy brief published in May, orphaned children are not only traumatised by the loss of parents (whose physical deterioration
they may have witnessed), they lack the necessary parental guidance through crucial life-stages of identity formation and socialisation into adulthood.The impact on the ability of these children to eventually participate
constructively in social and economic life is likely to be significant, and will no doubt increase levels of juvenile crime.
Psychosocial effects will be worsened by accompanying threats to the basic survival (food, housing, education, healthcare) and security (protection
from exploitation and abuse) frequently experienced by orphans.
Mbulelo Musi, a spokesperson for Zola Skweyiya, the social development minister, said AIDS orphans were an issue of great concern to the
government, given that their numbers were growing at an alarming rate.
State resources to deal with these children were already inadequate, Musi said, and would be stretched even further. The minister is concerned that
infrastructure, especially in the rural areas, is not adequate to meet the challenge now, let alone of escalating numbers of orphaned children.
The department was experiencing difficulties getting childcare grants to orphans, Musi said, as many did not have the birth certificates and ID
documents required to register for the grants. He said that between two and three million children in need are unregistered.
The government's campaign to increase access to grants had shown good results, but the minister has said the uptake rate in children getting
grants is low, given the great increase in orphaned children'. So particular attention needs to be paid to orphans, said Musi.
The department's lend a hand to protect children's rights campaign launched this month aims to ensure at least another one million children are
registered by March next year. The department has also resolved to adopt a phased approach to extending
child support grants to children below 14 years old, and, eventually, to 18.
The current age limit is seven.
The urgency cannot be overemphasised, Musi said.An estimated R4,8 billion a year will have to be spent to cater for children
up to the age of 14.Business and the social development department will meet at a summit in
Johannesburg this month to get to grips with the magnitude of the problem of vulnerable children, said Musi.
It is very clear we cannot only look at grants. We need other mechanisms and at the end of the day we want self-reliant communities.