Official reports estimate that, at the moment, there are more than 34 million orphans in Africa and some 11 million of them have been orphaned by AIDS. This means that eight out of every 10 children in the world whose parents have died of AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa.
AfricanQuarters in Nairobi Kenya spoke to various caregivers who feel that orphanhood is no longer strange.
“These days’ orphans are so many, and many people have died who could have assisted them, and therefore orphanhood is a common thing, no longer strange. I am taking care of four orphans whose parents died over four years ago.’’ Jane Nundu explains as a four year old orphan stares oblivious of what befell the parents who died of HIV/AIDS. The orphans belong to Jane’s daughter.
Apart from the four year old orphan, Jane has three more aged 17, 8 and 7 to take care of. She is a widow and sells fish for a living at her rented house in Dunga estate, Kisumu County. She says the business is not stable and she has to rely on the government of Kenya for support.
The Kenyan ministry of labour and East Africa Affairs provides 20 dollars to each household afflicted by orphanhood. However the amount provided every month is very little for Jane and thousands of others that care for more than two orphans. The fund set up in 2004 is yet to reach its target of 356,000 households. So far 256,000 households are benefitting from this fund.
The number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) continues to increase and continues to be of great concern according to Susan Mochache the Principal ministry of labour and East Africa Affairs- Directorate of Social Security.
The number of orphans and vulnerable children today in Kenya is estimated to be over 2.8 million.
Leonarah Auma Oduor, another lucky beneficiary of 20 dollars per month. She lives in a dark room in Manyatta Estate Kisumu County and has four orphans who are in primary school. She is a widow and was once a street urchin after the husband jilted her when the cost of living became unbearable. Together with her orphans she was assisted to rent the room in which she lives with her five children and four orphans.
However she says in her area most people have over five orphans and some are not beneficiaries of the government’s financial support program. Leonarah has had to cope with scathing attacks from her neighbours who feel she is being favoured by the government.
Vihiga county is in Western Kenya, twenty four kilometers from Kisumu county and Mr. Peter Ling’ana aged 55 is fending for five orphans. Peter and the neighbours who are in similar situation decided to form a group of 10people to start off table banking to boost the funds they receive from the government. Though the concept has been of great benefit to mr. Ling’ana who has bought two cows, the challenges of supporting orphans remain overwhelming.
Well, similar stories are endless in Kisumu and Vihiga counties and the state of orphanhood is not different from one county to another just as it is from one African nation to another.
The World Orphan day
The rest of the world commemorated the 11th World Orphans day which is celebrated on May 7.
In Kenya, Kisumu County played the host of this year’s national celebrations and hundreds of caregivers attended the function held at Lions High School perhaps to get some shopping for thousands of orphans they support.
Most of the caregivers are elderly people who are already grappling with other challenges.
Causes and effects of orphanhood
The epidemic of diseases such as AIDS and malaria in sub-Saharan Africa has already orphaned a generation of children.
A study issued by UNICEF recently reported. “AIDS has already orphaned more than 13 million African children, half of whom are between the ages of 10 and 14. The countries that will see the largest increases in the number of orphans — are those with HIV prevalence levels already higher than previously thought possible, exceeding 30 percent.
The study concluded even in countries where HIV prevalence has stabilized or fallen, like Uganda, the numbers of orphans will stay high or rise as parents already infected continue to die from the disease.
The devastating impact of HIV/AIDs on the adult population coupled with adverse socio-economic effects continues to erode family resources.
This has in turn denied the orphans a chance to access their basic needs such as proper health care, education, shelter and nutrition and more often are disinherited by their next of kin.
Children and young people whose parents have become infected with AIDS virus begin to suffer even before a parent or caregiver has died, the study goes on to say. Since children are unable to earn the same income as their parents, household income plummets. As a result, there is little money for food, clothing, medicine or other basic necessities. Education is interrupted and many children are forced to drop out to either care for a dying parent or go to work to earn money for others who may be too young. Children become depressed and feel alienated from their peers as well as from their families.
Cases of rape are on increase especially among the orphans. It is alleged that the perpetrators of the heinous acts are even the caregivers
African quarters in a round table interview with the officers handling children cases, teachers and some students was told that out of the 30 cases reported at the time, majority was defilement. Other cases included child neglect. Many of rape cases are not reported.
Vihiga county co-ordinator of Children services Mr. Aggrey Ambwaya fears for the safety of orphans . He says his team has been pursuing a rapist for over three months implicated in a case of child defilement. He noted that most rape cases of orphans are never reported.
One wonders whether mistreatment and exploitation of orphans are increasing because orphanhood has become a common phenomenon and few have a soft heart for this vulnerable group.
African nations are challenged to increase and implement policies that safeguard the interests of orphaned children.
– Wamoyi. M.M., AfricanQuarters KENYA