AIDS orphans come under the spotlight
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MOZAMBIQUE: AIDS orphans come under the spotlight

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


AIDS orphans often fall victim to stigma and discrimination

MAPUTO, 28 November (PLUSNEWS) - Dressed in jeans and a pink T-shirt, 12-year-old Sheila Daniel stood up confidently in front of a packed conference of about 200 people. "We want to go to school, to have school material, to have health care, to play, to be loved," she said. "One day we want to be doctors, engineers, so we can look after our families and other orphans."

Sheila was addressing Mozambique's first national seminar on children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS, held from 24 to 28 November in the capital, Maputo.

"I want to help my mother," she told PlusNews. Her confident voice wavered slightly as she explained that her father had succumbed to an AIDS-related disease. "He died on 3 February 2002," she said. Sheila now lives with her mother and her brother, eight-year-old Danubio.

Sheila had been chosen by Rede Da Crianca, a network of local NGOs working with children, to lead a one-day meeting of 40 children just before the national seminar.

All the children had either been orphaned by HIV/AIDS or directly touched by the epidemic that is affecting 13 per cent of Mozambique's adult population. "I was a little bit frightened leading the meeting. It was the first time I had the chance to meet other orphans, like me. We discussed our problems, and what help we need to solve them - we all have similar problems. I hope that the people talking at this seminar will help us," she told PlusNews.

Participants at the seminar, organised by the Ministry for Women and the Co-ordination of Social Action (MMCAS), and supported by a range of international organisations and NGOs, acknowledged that a mammoth task lay ahead of them.

Graca Machel, president of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), said a major project would be obtaining more accurate data about the country's orphans, including exact numbers, where they were living, their ages, gender and needs. Besides providing basic social services and making sure they could access these easily, orphans also required emotional and moral support, protection and love.

Official figures indicate that Mozambique has over 500,000 maternal AIDS orphans. An estimated 500 new HIV infections occur every day, with 94,602 AIDS-related deaths so far this year.

At the moment there appears to be no end in sight to the worsening crisis. In the central region of the country 26.5 percent of Mozambicans between 15 and 49 years are infected with the virus.

As in most other sub-Saharan countries hit by the epidemic, it was the extended family who often cared for orphaned children, but many of these families were already living in grinding poverty and are struggling to feed themselves in the current food shortages throughout the southern African region.

"The orphan crisis needs an urgent response. It must become a top priority for all actors within government, non-governmental organisations and civil society, and this must also be reflected in the allocation of adequate financial and human resources," said Marie-Pierre Poirier of the UN Children Fund (UNICEF).

She pointed out that to date the UN had received less than five percent of the funds needed for those living with HIV/AIDS in drought-affected areas. "The latest data highlights that we need to do more to ensure that orphaned children are identified and are receiving appropriate support. The limited response to the UN regional appeal is having an extremely negative impact on our ability to respond to the situation."

There was general agreement that a more coordinated effort should be made to ensure that orphaned children could access social services and were protected from child and sexual abuse. "Communities' capacities have also to be strengthened," said Atieno Odenyo, a UNICEF protection officer.

UNICEF supports the MMCAS to ensure free health services for all orphaned children, while cooperating in the development of a plan for 2003/04 and the ongoing review of child-related legislation. Machel stressed that it was critical to give orphaned children inheritance rights.

Sheila told participants that education was very important. Although she had not missed any years of schooling and was now in the seventh grade, her mother found it difficult to provide all the school materials she needed.

Odenyo agreed, saying that while providing for immediate needs was a priority, "education is especially critical as it is a long-term solution to the problem and expands the children's choices in the future."

The Ministry of Education is developing a policy to exempt orphaned children from paying registration fees. Although minimal, any amount was too costly for most poor families trying to look after their own children as well as orphaned ones.

Sheila was indignant when talking about stigma. "The government must make sure we orphans are not discriminated against," she said. "It happens. I remember when I was talking to my friend, a woman told me to shut up. She said I was nothing, that I was just an orphan."



Recent MOZAMBIQUE Reports

Feature - Stigma remains obstacle to HIV treatment,  28/Jan/04
Food and work for those living with HIV,  23/Oct/03
ARV project brings improved health and renewed hope,  15/Sep/03
AU summit focuses on fight against HIV/AIDS,  11/Jul/03
Artists join anti-AIDS roadshow,  16/Jun/03


The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making A difference for Children Affected by AIDS
Children and AIDS International Non-Government Organisation Network (CAINN)
AIDS Orphans Assistance Database

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.


PlusNews is produced under the banner of RHAIN, the Southern African Regional HIV/AIDS Information Network. RHAIN's members currently include:


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