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Keep orphans in school, urges UN envoy
Wednesday 9 February 2005
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AFRICA: Keep orphans in school, urges UN envoy

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


Stephen Lewis, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa has highlighted the orphan crisis

JOHANNESBURG, 16 July (PLUSNEWS) - In communities grappling with the devastating effects of AIDS, women are quietly bearing the brunt, absorbing orphans into their existing families, caring for the ill and running their households.

"It really amounts to conscripted labour, but that's a truth that the world has never been willing to admit," UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis told a press conference at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok.

This coping mechanism will soon be incentivised in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, where by 2010, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the total population will be children orphaned, mostly by AIDS.

"To face the accelerating catastrophe, Swaziland has decided to mobilise ten thousand women to take on the task of helping to care for thousands upon thousands of orphans, over and above all the other work these women already do in their own communities: looking after their own children, absorbing children who are orphans as part of the extended family, looking after the sick and the dying, while running their own households," said Lewis.

In a recent proposal to the Global Fund, Swaziland set a precedent by requesting that ten thousand women be paid US $30 per month to look after orphans in their communities. These 'Community Care Givers' would be 'employed' to care for orphans - a task many were already performing.

"It would represent the first time in the life of the pandemic that women would finally be compensated for keeping society alive far beyond the call of duty, and for having their extraordinary contribution recognised," said Lewis.

Swaziland's proposal to the Global Fund in the third round of funding was approved in its entirety, including provision for the payment of caregivers.

"This is truly an astonishing precedent and I assume hereafter, government upon government will do the same," said Lewis. "It's possible that the Global Fund will turn out to be the vehicle through which the international community is finally forced to acknowledge the value of women's work in the developing world."

Lewis expressed grave concern over the little attention paid to the question of orphans at the Bangkok conference.

The likelihood of orphans, especially girls, not being able to remain in school was of considerable concern. "One wonders when, if ever, there will be a mass mobilisation on the continent to have school fees abolished everywhere. The maintenance of fees is an explicit violation of the Convention of the rights of the Child," said Lewis.

The UNAIDS Report on AIDS, released the week prior to the conference, questioned the issue of school fees, saying in summary: "Staying in school offers orphaned children the best chance of escaping extreme poverty and its associated risks. Thus, everything possible needs to be done to keep them in school."

Lewis pointed out the tragic irony in the situation facing orphans. "You have these millions of kids who are orphans, and we know the best place for them is in school, and a huge percentage of them can't afford to attend, and then we hire thousands of women to take care of them throughout the day - is there something crazy about that picture?

"And the caregivers, these remarkable women who carry the entire burden of care, which is now so pervasive as to be called the 'care economy' - the brutally exploitive features of which are described in reports ad nauseam, with virtually nothing done about them - these women are increasingly grandmothers," he said.

"I'm therefore moved to say that this International Conference has predictably dealt with issues of funding and treatment and political controversy - and they are all important. But the human factor somehow gets lost; and the most vulnerable part of the human factor in this raging, all-consuming pandemic of HIV/AIDS in Africa, is the vulnerability of women and girls," concluded Lewis.

In Africa 75 percent of infected people aged 15 to 24 years - almost 5 million - are young women and girls.


Recent AFRICA Reports
Anti-AIDS drug tender yet to be awarded,  8/Feb/05
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 219, 4 February 2005,  4/Feb/05
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 218, 28 January 2005,  28/Jan/05
Older people neglected by HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns,  27/Jan/05
WHO's '3 by 5' plan gains momentum,  26/Jan/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
Sida Info Services
Le Fonds mondial de lutte contre le SIDA, la tuberculose et le paludisme
Le Réseau Afrique 2000

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