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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SWAZILAND: Tempers flare as govt pays orphans' school fees | Children, Economy | News Items
Sunday 18 December 2005
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SWAZILAND: Tempers flare as govt pays orphans' school fees

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


Swazi orphans and vulnerable children at a Neighbourhood Care Point

MBABANE, 27 January (PLUSNEWS) - A near riot at a Swazi primary school this week, when parents tried to register their children as orphans to qualify for government support, has underlined the resentment created by efforts to help the growing numbers of vulnerable children.

"Children whose parents can afford to pay school fees felt it was unfair that they had to pay, when government was paying for orphans. They said, 'Why should these children be rewarded because their parents got AIDS and died?'" a teacher at Khuphuka Primary School near the capital, Mbabane, told PlusNews.

The teacher said that out of 761 registered pupils, only 86 paid their school fees on the opening day of school - the rest were sent home. Police had to disperse an unruly crowd of parents who protested that they were being discriminated against because their children were not orphans.

Education is not free and universal in Swaziland, and schools are dependant on fees paid by parents, which range from R200 (US $40) to R800 ($160) per year per pupil. However, school fees for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) are paid by a special government fund, while UN agencies provide additional assistance through targeted programmes.

A vulnerable child is defined as a boy or girl endangered by extreme poverty, the threat of physical or sexual abuse, or hunger and neglect.

Last week Minister of Education Constance Simelane called on communities to register OVCs in their area. "We appeal for assistance in identifying needy children out there. We are sending out personnel with registration forms, who are from the community, and who are in a better position to know all the needy children in their areas."

A committee at Khuphuka school identified OVC constituting about a tenth of the student body. Parents of children rejected by the committee because their families were considered relatively well off were among those demanding benefits this week.

Officials at the Ministry of Education were unavailable for comment.

"Swaziland is a poor country, and it is difficult for parents to pay school fees. This is particularly true in rural ... [areas], where most people live. They see AIDS orphans getting their school needs taken care of, and they resent this. I have reports of AIDS orphans being bullied at school," said Pholile Dlamini, an AIDS activist and advisor to the city council in Manzini, the commercial capital.

Most Swazis are subsistence farmers who grow maize and have to rely on the sale of surpluses for cash to pay school fees. Declining harvests due to drought and the impact of AIDS have cut into disposable income.

"But there is more - Swaziland is a welfare state dependant on international donor aid, and Swazis are used to being taken care of. They don't see why, if some children are having their school fees paid, they have to pay for their own children - it's a welfare state mentality," a teacher in the Manzini area commented.

Swaziland, with a population of about 1 million, currently has 70,000 children under the age of 15 who have lost parents to AIDS. The total number of OVC is being ascertained by the education ministry in partnership with humanitarian agencies.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
HIV positive Swazis take govt to task over ARV supply,  6/Dec/05
Relief for the elderly as pensions go up,  21/Nov/05
Hospitals run out of ARVs,  18/Nov/05
Country's first urban OVC care centre rising to the needs,  15/Nov/05
New law says death to child rapists in fight against AIDS,  9/Nov/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making a Difference for Children Affected by AIDS

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