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Tuesday 15 November 2005
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SWAZILAND: AIDS orphans also stigmatised by poverty at school

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

MBABANE, 25 May (PLUSNEWS) - Twelve-year-old Mfanfikile looked forward to going back to school after nearly a year and a half of absence following the death of his mother. He wanted to look his best, and had found an old beige jacket in a wardrobe. Although several sizes too large, Mfanfikile thought it an improvement on the threadbare shorts and T-shirts he usually wore.

"I got to school; the other children had nice clothes. They laughed at me; they called me 'rags boy'," he related in a soft voice, still smarting from the shame.

Prior to her death, mostly likely from an AIDS-related illness, Mfanfikile's mother had managed to scrape together money to buy her son school clothes by reselling fruit she bought at the market at her roadside stand.

Her income never allowed for shoes, but other pupils at his primary school in the central Manzini region were also barefoot, so Mfanfikile did not look different.

As part of a government and private donor effort to return the growing number of AIDS orphans to school, a benefactor paid the fees for him and several other children at his school, but the money did not cover items like clothing.

"Children can be cruel to those they perceive as outsiders. We have started to talk to all the students at assembly about welcoming and not ostracising the less fortunate," said a teacher.

In an effort to curb discrimination against poor students, the Ministry of Education has launched an initiative to encourage schools to do away with expensive uniforms and costly school trips that usually leave indigent students behind, creating unhappiness and resentment.

"Children like to compete with their peers: they compare things, and if their parents fail to get these things for them they feel inferior. This creates division among students," said Goodman Kunene, principal secretary of the education ministry.

The ministry has also been fighting to keep a number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) sponsored by government bursaries from being expelled for failing their exams.

Headmasters have been booting out students in an effort to keep academic standards high: in response the ministry has appealed to school heads to take into consideration the special circumstances of OVC, whose education, like Mfanfikile's, has often been interrupted.

Swaziland, with a population of just over one million, has the world's highest HIV prevalence rate at more than 42 percent of pregnant women. An estimated 35,000 children were orphaned by AIDS in 2001.

Kunene said right-thinking adults should recognise that orphans did not live normal lives, and poor academic results should not be surprising.

"We expect headmasters to understand this, and help government in its struggle towards creating a better future for all children," noted the principal secretary. "We do not expect teachers to deprive these children of their only chance to a brighter future, because these scholarships are not meant only for brilliant children."


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
New law says death to child rapists in fight against AIDS,  9/Nov/05
New anti-AIDS campaign targets young people,  12/Oct/05
Poverty-stricken AIDS widows pin hopes on new constitution,  26/Sep/05
HIV-positive children more vulnerable to chickenpox,  8/Sep/05
Traditional chastity vow may have lowered teenage HIV rates,  23/Aug/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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