MOZAMBIQUE: Orphans getting caught in HIV cycle

More than 380,000 children in Mozambique are thought to have lost their parents to AIDS-related illnesses
Chimoio, 19 December 2008 (PlusNews) - With her make-up touched up, a basin filled with seasoned chicken on her head and a bundle of sharpened bamboo sticks in her hand, Lucrécia*, 16, makes her way to an old petrol station near a major truck stop in Chimoio, capital of Mozambique's central province of Manica.

"I sell appetisers to a lot of the people who come here to drink," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "On the weekends it's very busy, and I can earn a reasonable amount of money to help pay for household expenses."

Lucrécia's parents died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005. Since then, she has cared for three younger siblings and her elderly grandmother. Her small business makes a monthly profit of about 1,650 Meticais (US$66), which has to pay for food, education and health care for the family.

"My business isn't that profitable, but it was the only way I could find of surviving and not falling into the mistake of selling my body, which happens with other girls in my situation," she said.

But night-time commerce comes with its own set of dangers, like a high rate of physical and sexual violence that can also place her at risk of HIV infection.

Survival schemes

After losing their parents, most children turn to domestic work, agricultural work or informal commerce to survive, often dropping out of school to earn an income and manage household chores.

Helena Muando, a psychologist and provincial director of the Department of Women and Social Action (DPMAS) in Manica, said orphaned girls were especially at risk of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and were more susceptible to coercion.

Many had no choice but to go into commercial sex work or marry early, both of which increased their vulnerability to HIV.

Orphaned in 2003 when her parents died in a traffic accident, Erica*, 15, accepted a marriage proposal from a truck driver because she could find no other way of supporting herself and her grandmother.

She became pregnant and discovered she was HIV positive during a pre-natal check-up. "I haven't seen [my husband] for more than four months," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "He never called me or came to see me after he found out I was living with HIV."

A vicious cycle

More than 380,000 of the estimated 1.6 million orphaned children in Mozambique are thought to have lost their parents to AIDS-related illnesses. The United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, estimates that another 650,000 children will lose their parents to AIDS in the next two years.

HIV is part of a vicious cycle that ensnares many such children and teenagers because it takes away their parents, without whom they too become more vulnerable to the virus.

"We are very concerned about the percentage of orphans in Manica Province. The number has risen dramatically in the past few years, in most cases because of HIV and AIDS," said Mozambique's First Lady, Maria da Luz Guebuza.

Many orphans are integrated into extended or substitute families, but a recent study by Save the Children, an international organisation working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children, found that this was not always the best solution.

The study documented abuse suffered by some orphans, especially those living with adoptive families. Some of the children interviewed said they were given less food than others in the household, suffered physical abuse, were obliged to take on a heavy load of household chores, and were not always sent to school.

Social support

The government's DPMAS, in cooperation with various NGOs, provides support to approximately half the 400,000 orphaned children and teenagers in Manica through income-generating programmes like raising livestock, informal commerce and building houses.

A rehabilitation centre built by the Messenger of God Church in Chimoio offers health care, play therapy, life skills training and psycho-social support to orphaned and vulnerable children.

Read more:
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The centre also provides assistance with birth registrations, which are essential to ensuring that the children's rights, including their inheritance rights, are respected.

Guebuza stressed that "Support at the community level plays a fundamental role in assuring that children will receive necessary care, and that their rights will be respected."

*prefer not to reveal last names

Theme (s): Children, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

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

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