AIDS and economic decline hamper school enrolments
Wednesday 31 March 2004
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SWAZILAND: AIDS and economic decline hamper school enrolments


HIV/AIDS threatens school enrolment

MBABANE, 12 January (PLUSNEWS) - With schools reopening nationwide this week, teachers in Swaziland are concerned that a weakening economy and HIV/AIDS will affect the number of children enrolling for the 2004 academic year.

"The problem is school fees - and it's not a new one. Parents scramble to come up with money for tuition, school uniforms, transportation, boarding and other fees. What is measurably worse this year is the number of parents who are out of work, and the growing population of children without parents," Alexander Tsabedze, a headmaster in the northern Hhohho region, told IRIN.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on poor households is compounding an already difficult situation.

"AIDS is taking away kids' parents. They are living with relatives, often grandparents, who can feed and perhaps clothe them, and put a sort of roof over their heads. But there is no available cash for school fees," said Lenhle Dube, a nurse with the International Red Cross, stationed at a clinic in S'gombeni, 20 km north of Manzini.

AIDS has pushed average Swazi life expectancy down from 46 years in 1989 to 39 years in 2003, according to the UN Development Programme.

The National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/AIDS projects that out of a national population of about 900,000, by 2010 as many as 120,000 children under age 15 will have lost both parents to AIDS.

"Who is going to pay these kids' school fees? Even kids with parents today are having a hard time," said Natalie Khumalo, a science teacher at a public school in Manzini.

In some cases families supplement incomes by entering the informal sector, with wives and grandmothers selling fruit and homemade items at the gates of their houses or in town.

Last year King Mswati III announced a R16 million (about US $2.5 million) fund to bring the neediest children, who had dropped out of school, back into the classroom.

But educationalists have noted that relatively few poor children benefited, largely because the poor are concentrated in rural areas, and the fund is also being used for urban students.

Alan Brody, country representative for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), noted: "School fees are so much higher in towns. Twenty children in the (eastern) Lubombo region could be educated for every child in Mbabane or Manzini. Resources have not been directed to where they can do the greatest good."

Teachers want the government to rethink how spending on education is allocated. Although tertiary education is free, there is no free education available for primary or secondary students.

"This policy is for the benefit of those better-off in society - a subsidy for the rich to get a university education for their children, while the poor are charged for the basic primary education of their children," said Brody.

Scholastic assistance for vulnerable and orphaned Children (VOC) has been made available through international children's welfare organisations like UNICEF and the International Red Cross. As schools prepare to reopen, aid workers are busy identifying VOC, and negotiating payments with school headmasters.

"There are so many children in need. We are finding them, and giving them the opportunity in school that is every child's right," said nurse Dube at S'gombeni, working hard to get rural orphans into classrooms when they reopen Monday.



[ENDS]

Recent SWAZILAND Reports

Campaign to help AIDS-hit education system, 31/Mar/04
AIDS stats must be seen in context, say authorities, 25/Mar/04
Seven-point plan to fight HIV/AIDS, 25/Mar/04
World's highest rate of HIV infection, 19/Mar/04
Unregulated ARVs cause health havoc, 5/Mar/04

Links

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.

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  • Health Systems Trust

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