Deprivation of life

Are we protecting or ignoring our future?

Orphans and vulnerable children are left without their first line of defence – their parents. When a child is orphaned they become vulnerable to various aspects of life dangers. Sexual exploitation, lack of education and abuse are but a few issues that face their daily lives.

According to the Oxford dictionary an orphan is “a child who has lost one or both parents”. However the Namibian National Policy adds this to that definition: “a child who has lost one or both parents because of death and is under the age of 18”.
A vulnerable child is a “child who needs care and protection”.

Orphans and vulnerable children or OVC for short, are common sights in developing countries. The loss of a parent not only devastates the emotional aspect of a child’s life, but in most cases these children have no support from family or the state. They are left alone to fend for themselves in a world where they are ignored and completely lost. These profound changes in one’s life affect you socially, financially and psychologically.

Global action for Children estimates that 132 million children in the developing world are orphaned. Many of these children are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS and by 2010 we can expect more than 25 million orphans, due to this ailing disease. Billions of children live in poverty and over 9 million will die due to preventable diseases annually.

These staggering figures are hard to process. Never have we imagined that innocent children like these surround our daily lives. We often see a child begging on the street but never realise that they are forced into lives of treachery and loneliness. Many of these children are forced into prostitution and co-opted into joining militias or armed groups.

Children like these are not only left alone by themselves, they are more than likely taking the place of a parent or an elder in the provision of siblings and of ten times an entire family. This forces the OVC to withdraw from school. Families can no longer support school fees and uniforms and due to the lack of finances, children drop out and lose the desperately needed education that ultimately shapes and forms a person.

Once a parent succumbs to illness and the provision stops, so does the support from the community. Due to the stigma of Orphans and the reality of the financial burden, family members move away leaving the children all alone.

Unlike many poor families these children search for scraps and travel around in search of food and constant shelter. The lack of love, attention and affection stunts emotional development and the sense of well being.

OVC’s are at a heightened risk of malnutrition and illness. With a lack of public health care many of these unfortunate children die without ever reaching their fifth birthday. Even if a child can escape the deprivation of their youth, they never fully become adequate providers and adults capable of complete understanding. Psychological distress accompanies them for their entire life.

UNICEF (Unite for Children Unite against AIDS) noted some staggering statistics regarding the affects of being orphaned:
In the United Republic of Tanzania school attendance dropped to only 52 percent.
In Tanzania, over half the children working in full time mining are orphans.
In Addis Abada, Ethiopia, more than 75 percent of child domestic workers are orphans.
In parts of Zambia, 65 percent of orphaned children engage in commercial sex and live on the streets.
In central and Eastern Europe alone, 1.5 million children live in public health care
In Russia, the annual number of children left without parental care has doubled in the last 10 years, even though birth rates have dropped.
Conflict has orphaned more than a million children from their families.
Two to Five percent of the refugee populations are orphaned children.
In 12 African countries, projections show that orphans will comprise at least 15 percent of all children under the age of 15 years by 2010.
Malaria and Tuberculosis kill two million people annually. 90 Percent of these are in developing countries. This amounts to nearly 3 000 deaths per day. Most of these are children.

Business mogul and Creator of Microsoft, Bill Gates, aims to decrease these death tolls with medicine and the development of anti viral immunisations. Bill Gates has changed the face of the computing industry and hopes to do the same with his own style of Philanthropy.

Time Magazine quotes: "When Gates looks at the world, a world in which millions of preventable deaths occur each year, he sees an irrational, inefficient, broken system, an application that needs to be debugged. It shocks him -- his word -- that people don't see this, the same way it shocked him that nobody but he and Paul Allen saw the microchip for what it was."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have donated staggering sums to HIV/AIDS programs, libraries, agriculture research and disaster relief.

According to Bill Gates “all lives have equal value, no matter where they're being lived”.

In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is still the leading cause of death amongst those between 15 and 59 years of age. 80 percent of the children orphaned due to the illness live in this region. According to ‘Until there is a Cure Foundation’, the United Nations (UN) estimates that currently there are nearly 20 million Aids Orphans worldwide. Although not yet orphaned, these children are also severely affected by HIV/AIDS.

The OVC problem is masked by the lag between the infection of HIV and death. Even if HIV infections stopped today, we will still see the rise of orphans for another ten years.

In 2003 President Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) to combat HIV/AIDS. This is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in the history of man. The United States has taken leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the hardest hit countries. As of September 2008 PEPFAR supported life-saving anti-retroviral treatment for more than 2.1 million men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS around the world.

In addition, nearly 240 000 babies have been born free of HIV, due to the support of these American programs. PEPFAR provides support to communities, Caretaker support, Holistic programming, government collaboration and monitoring evaluations to name a few. During times of global financial stress these programs, which protect the children, are needed more than ever.

PEPFAR supports national strategies in countries such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to name a few. Working together with programs such as these truly impacts a generation.

The ‘Group of Eight’ (G8) meets every year to discuss strategies to improve our world. Many subjects are covered with hosts of reports and campaign, from both official and non-governmental.

World Vision, campaign for G8 action on health care stated that "A staggering 9.7 million children die each year before the age of five. Most would survive if they had the basic healthcare taken for granted in rich nations. ...We're campaigning for a world where all children have an equal chance of reaching their fifth birthday."

The South African Campaign, ‘Love Life’ has greatly improved the decrease of HIV infections within the community. With guidance and greater education we can reshape our generation to become sufficient and protected. Without Charities and Campaigns that inform and educate us we will never become aware of the devastating effects of the disease within our communities. It’s easy to turn aside and pretend not to see it, but the inevitable will overtake us until we can ignore it no longer.

With great leadership and the commitment of nations we can combat this disease that annihilates our generation. Like Sir William Van Horne said, “Nothing is too small to know and nothing too bog to attempt”.

© Magdalena Baben 2010