2005-06-30-Aids makes a continent of orphans

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2005-06-30-Aids makes a continent of orphans


As G8 leaders meet to discuss poverty in Africa, the BBC News Website looks at the plight of the continent's homeless youth.

From Cape Town to Addis Ababa, and from Mombasa to Luanda, Africa's city streets are home to children who have nowhere better to go.

War, poverty and abuse have all played a part in putting them there - but it is the Aids epidemic, more than any other single factor, that has swollen the number of children sleeping in the continent's gutters and abandoned buildings.

Aids has almost doubled the number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, with Southern Africa being the worst hit.

The epidemic has orphaned 12 million children under the age of 18 in sub-Saharan Africa, out of a total of approximately 25 million children orphaned from all causes, according to the United Nations' chidren's charity, Unicef.

"Many millions of other children may not have lost their parents to HIV yet, but their parents are probably already ill, unable to work and in need of the care that only their children are left to provide," says Pat Lone, communications officer for Unicef in Nairobi

School

"Children are dropping out of school to look after ill parents, adding to already quite low school enrolment and completion rates."

In the 21 countries of eastern and southern Africa, for example, on average only 62 % of primary-school age children are enrolled in school. These 21 countries account for nearly one-fifth of the world's total number of children out of school.

"This is especially alarming in light of the fact that the population of the countries involved is relatively small," Ms Lone says.

In western and central Africa, only 55% of school-age children are enrolled.

"Children not in school are children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including exploitative labour and sexual abuse."

National action

Unicef believes that tackling the deep-rooted problems faced by homeless children requires action on a national scale, and supports National Plans of Action in 16 African countries.

The plans are aimed at delivering a range of basic services to children and families, including education, water and sanitation, birth registration (important for children in terms of education and other services) and access to health care, including anti-retroviral treatment.

The plans have been budgeted - Kenya, for example is looking for $70m over two years, and Malawi $206m over five years.

"The hope is that multiple donors will help governments finance them, and of course governments themselves will allocate greater budgets to these social necessities," Ms Lone says.

Grants

Another idea that has been tried out in Kenya involves direct cash grants to help the most vulnerable children.

This project by Kenyan government and Unicef ensures that 500 households in the districts of Garissa, Kwale and Nairobi receive about $6.50 per vulnerable or orphaned child each month.

"The pilot test phase of the experiment showed that the impact was very positive - better access to education and health care and improved nutrition," Ms Lone says.

"Money was spent on school uniforms, textbooks, food, cooking oil, etc. The funds raised the living standards of the whole household receiving the money."

All these initiatives, of course, require cash. After many years of persuading and campaigning, the rich countries of the G8 have accepted in principle the idea of 100% debt cancellations for developing countries.

Debt relief will free up more money for governments to spend on social services - but it remains to be seen whether Africa's children will benefit.

"With regard to debt relief, very definitely this is extremely important and welcome," Ms Lone says. "It, however, isn't enough on its own."

 

 


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