>In Sub-Saharan Africa, millions of children are growing up in a world without parents, without stability, without hope. They are growing up in a society with a generation missing. The children know only a life devastated by AIDS. Currently in Africa, 12 million have been orphaned by the disease. Many of these children are either raised by their grandparents, are in an orphanage, or are homeless. The orphans are often in extreme poverty and have higher rates of HIV infection than other children.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults ages 15-59. In some African countries, orphans with AIDS make up 15 to 20 percent of populations. This makes the region home to 80 percent of all the children in the developing world who have lost a parent to the disease.
Before family members die from the disease, children often bear the responsibility for the family unit. They take care of their dying family members, gaining income and taking care of smaller siblings. After children become orphaned they become vulnerable to marginalization and discrimination due to the social denial and lack of understanding about the disease. Millions of children orphaned are often out of school, growing up alone and subjected to exploitative labor and sex trafficking. Many countries with children orphaned by AIDS have been impacted by conflict in recent years. In these unstable countries, orphanages are frequent targets for state armies and rebel groups to recruit and force orphans into child soldiering.
It is now estimated that the number of African orphans will increase to 18 million at the end of the decade if more is not done to combat the AIDS pandemic. The 18 million children are roughly 3.5 times more than the total population living in Minnesota (July 1, 2005, census estimate). Even within areas where HIV has stabilized or is beginning to decline, the number of orphans will continue to grow or at least remain high for years, reflecting the lag between contracting HIV infection and death.
Currently, millions of the orphaned children are being overlooked by governments and private donors as they create strategies to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. According to UNICEF, only 5 percent of HIV-positive children get medical assistance. There was an estimated 680,000 children age 0 to 14 living with AIDS in 2005. Children are struggling to survive; fewer than 10 percent of the children orphaned by AIDS receive financial support.
It is hard to imagine that AIDS was first recognized only 25 years ago and the world at large continues to ignore the issue with devastating ramifications. In the next ten to twenty years, many of the orphans will grow up to be lower skilled adults who are not fully integrated into a society; as a result they will lack community ties and social networks. As people who grew up without social rules and feelings of no responsibilities, they will be more prone to conflict and violence, further perpetuating current widespread violence and the spread of AIDS.
Africa’s future will be a direct result of the decisions that are made today. Educating the children of Africa is the key to stability on the continent and best prevention in slowing the spread of AIDS. As adults, they will be more likely to use condoms and be less likely to engage in casual sexual activity, and there will be a reduction in the rate of sexual violence against girls and women, which is a leading factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Africa’s children today will shape the future of tomorrow. There needs to be a drastic increase in funding from the United States and better dissemination of institutional programs such as bir th and death records. Currently children have a hard time proving that they are orphans and as a result are ineligible for financial assistance. The United States needs to stand up and say Africa is worth it.
Melissa R. M. McLean is a master of public policy candidate at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Please send comments to [email protected]