Neglected, starving and ill, some turning to prostitution to survive
Special report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/aids
Chris McGreal in Durban
Saturday June 23, 2001
Aids orphans in South Africa are 'starving and ill'
Many South African children whose parents have died in the Aids epi-
demic are neglected, starving and ill, and some are turning to pros-
titution to survive, according to a report by the Nelson Mandela
A study of 20 townships and villages showed that many communities did
not even know that Aids orphans were living in their midst.
"The level of deprivation in respect of basic needs was so deeply
felt that many children shed tears," the report said. "Even as we
spoke to them, a good number of these children, some as young as four
to five years old, had gone days without food."
Officially South Africa has the greatest number of HIV-positive peo-
ple in the world - 4.7m, or one in nine of the population. About
700,000 children have been orphaned by Aids, and around half of those
are thought to be HIV-positive.
Alf Nghalaluma, who directed the research, said the traditional way
of caring for such children was falling apart.
"While the extended family institution remains strong and continues
to absorb orphans, it's beginning to cave in because of a number of
circumstances, the number of people dying and leaving orphans behind.
They cannot cope with the numbers," he said.
"In the East Rand, six children stayed alone for almost 18 months,"
said Lungi Mabude, a researcher for the fund. "At the stage they were
discovered they were almost dying and did not even want to go with
In the town of Melmoth, 100 miles north of Durban, researchers dis-
covered that 10% of Aids orphans lived in households headed by other
children. The biggest problem for many was finding food. Some orphans
went to church hoping to beg the pastor for something to eat.
The report said the Aids orphans were generally more interested in
school than other children, because they saw it as a means of escap-
ing poverty, but sometimes they were turned away because they had no
money for fees or uniforms.
"One of their key problems, which cuts very deep, relates to stigma-
tisation of the children when their friends or teachers get to know
[that their parents died of Aids]," Mr Nghalaluma said.
The report quotes children's accounts of the discrimination they suf-
"Friends to my younger brothers do not play with them any more, they
tell them they are suffering from Aids. My teacher said I will also
die of Aids," one said.
Some children were also vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse. "It
is fairly common that children have been forced into prostitution to
feed themselves and their families," said Irene Menell, a trustee of
the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
The study concluded that there was "an enormous need for crisis in-
tervention as well as long term development strategies".
"The number of orphans will escalate at a very rapid rate. The num-
bers are so overwhelming that the community is beginning to fail to
cope with the problem," Mr Nghalaluma said.
* The International Labour Organisation, which brings together gov-
ernments, unions and employers, announced yesterday that it had drawn
up a new code to protect the job rights of Aids sufferers.
The code, the first effort to formulate a policy for dealing with HIV
in the workplace, will be presented to the UN special assembly on
Aids in New York next week. Although it is not binding in law, offi-
cials said the code would send out a strong moral and political mes-
sage to the ILO's 191 member countries.
Links: * Nelson Mandela Children's Fund
* SABCnews -- Aids conference draws thousands to New York
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