Growing up fast is the key to survival in the face of poverty, sickness and death.
Wendy (13) is painting a picture of how children are forced to witness the slow and painful death of their parents from HIV/AIDS.
She says: The picture is of my home. The ambulance is fetching my mother.The flower is me. I have to stand tall, protect my mother and my home.
My mother had another baby. I looked after her until she died and then I looked after the baby. He also died.
Wendy told her story at the opening of the national conference on Children affected by HIV/AIDS in Johannesburg on Sunday night.
Sonja Giese, head of the HIV/AIDS programme at the Children's Institute of the University of Cape Town, says: Wendy is one of 90 children affected by HIV/AIDS who want their voices heard and their views to be considered in the
drafting and implementation of policy and programmes to protect children.
Many of the 90 children are caregivers and breadwinners in their households. They spoke of how difficult it was to attend school while caring for sick parents or younger siblings.
Some of the children live in dire poverty, unalleviated by inadequate social security measures.
Others spoke of the social implications of living in a household where someone is HIV-positive and how they also suffer discrimination.
It is estimated that by 2015, between nine and 12 percent of 43 million South Africans will be affected by HIV/AIDS.
Already, 61 percent of South African children - 10,28 million of them - live in poverty.HIV/AIDS adds to their suffering. It is impacting on many aspects of their lives, says Giese.
What they spoke about shows that it is very closely linked with poverty. They are not allowed to go to school because they can't pay school fees or afford uniforms.
Schools feeding schemes don't offer food every day and teachers often don't know what the children's circumstances
are. "We need good mechanisms for teachers to use to help them identify vulnerable children and we need strong systems so that teachers can refer them for support.
The four-day conference is jointly organised by the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, the
Department of Social Development and the United Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Nelson Mandela Children's Fund chief executive Sibongile Mkhabela has called for co-ordinated action for children affected by HIV/AIDS.
We are faced with a crisis of unprecedented levels, and a co-ordinated response needs to be in place if we are to secure their
(children's) future," she says.
The conference highlighted inefficiencies in the way programmes and projects already in place respond to the specific needs of children, especially those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Mkhabela says: We have policies, backed by our Constitution, that affirm children's
rights. "However, the children do not benefit optimally from this. Our development actions and service delivery systems are still far from
The Child Care Act, among other laws, is currently under review to improve the status of
children. But the biggest challenge is how we implement and address the child's right to shelter, proper healthcare, food security, says
Mkhabela. She says fragmented, isolated and duplicated services are not the answer.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which South Africa is signatory, everybody is responsible for the overall protection of the rights of children.
Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya says: There can be no denying that the incidence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa has reached catastrophic proportions and most of us interact with people infected by AIDS.
We can no longer speak of people affected by HIV/AIDS as if it were some theoretical concept out
there." We are all affected, either directly or indirectly. We have no option but to face the challenge and to deal with it using every resource we can muster.
Thousands of children across the country are orphans and have to fend for
themselves. There are about 450 000 AIDS orphans. In three years' time, their numbers are expected to reach about a million, rising to 2,5 million in 2010.
Skweyiya says: As we speak, they have not had enough to eat, have no decent shelter and (are) unable to access health and social services.
Tragically many are subjected to appalling forms of maltreatment and abuse,
often at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them.
Fresh in my mind are the cries of 11-year-old Lindiwe Sithole at the Thembalethu Home-based Care project in
Schoemansdal, Mpumalanga.At the age of 11 she made a fervent plea to the Government to protect them from being evicted from their homes when their parents die of HIVAIDS. ( Source:
Sowetan, 4 June 2002)