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Orphans and Vulnerable Children

An orphan or vulnerable child (OVC) is a child under the age of 18 whose mother, father, both parents, or a primary caregiver has died, and who is in need of care or protection.(Namibian Government definition, 2002)

To understand why there are so many orphans in Namibia – and why there will be even more in the future – one must first understand the reasons why so many parents are dying. Car accidents, various cancers, malaria, and tuberculosis account for a large number of these deaths – but since 1995, the major cause of death in Namibia has been HIV and AIDS.
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Most recently, UNICEF (Namibia) reported that they have modified their own estimates on the number of orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia, based on data from the 2001 National Census (Roos, 2003b). Out of 717,850 children under the age of 15, they identify 97,177 that are orphaned by one or both parents (i.e. 13.8%), the highest being in the Omusati and Ohangwena regions with a total of 16,127 and 17,891 respectively.

According to the study most frequently cited in Namibia (sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, 2002), the total number of children in Namibia under the age of 15, who are estimated by the end of 2003 to have lost one or both of their parents to death is 114,556. Barring a major infusion of anti-retroviral medications and other life-prolonging treatments, AIDS will cause the number of orphans in Namibia to almost double by the year 2010. Thus, by the end of this decade, this source projects the number of orphans in Namibia at 206,074.

This means that, at the current rates of infection and death, a child born in Namibia today has more than a one in three chance of becoming orphaned before reaching adulthood. Moreover, if the category of “orphans and vulnerable children” were expanded from the relatively narrow definition used in the SIAPAC study mentioned above to ALSO include orphans up to the age of 18 and those made extremely needy and vulnerable due to other causes (in accordance with the definition accepted by the Namibian government), the number of children needing assistance is even far greater than the already-alarming rates cited above.

The relationship between HIV and poverty is like a two-edged sword. Each contributes to the other, thereby worsening the situation for those affected. Other overlapping and contributing factors include gender-inequalities, a loss of social cohesion within the extended family, and rapid urbanisation. As with any tragedy of escalating proportions, children are the most affected and suffer from multiple losses. Most prominent to emerge from the research on Namibia are the needs for food security, access to education and social services, and psycho-social support. While not measured precisely in any research conducted to date in Namibia, case examples of stigma and discrimination can often be heard.

While the Namibian Government gears up with a comprehensive inter-sectoral plan of action (under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare), all indicators show that many-times more children are eligible for the government assistance than are currently getting it. Consistent with the child’s best interest, Namibia’s policy is to keep children in the least restrictive environment possible – that is, preferably within their own or another family setting, rather than in an institution or orphanage (Ministry of Health and Social Services; Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare). To that end, representatives from government often make reference to a range of government entitlement grants that are designed to provide base-level support for the neediest-of-the needy in the community (e.g. Maintenance and Foster Care grants). Sadly, these grants are under-funded and extremely difficult to access, even for those who are obviously eligible. Several sectors of society have already called for a review process and modifications for the future.

Fortunately, the Namibian people are strong and caring. Government has made the care and support of Orphans and Vulnerable Children a major priority, as demonstrated by the development of a national OVC policy in 2003 (under the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Welfare. In addition, a growing number of community-based responses have become evident in recent years at the local level - mostly from faith-based organisations. Similarly, the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport, and Culture is working to establish “circles of support” for all learners-in-need, and the issue of “OVCs” has moved to the front-and-centre of many agendas within both the public and private sectors, at both the regional and national levels. But these efforts need to be nurtured and supported over the long-term in order to become sustainable, and thus provide children with the consistency and support they need.

Author(s) UNESCO Office Windhoek
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Box 1 Children have tremendous resiliency and are themselves the brightest beacon of hope for Namibia. Because of this, orphans and other vulnerable children must also be given the opportunity to articulate their own needs and desires. Not surprisingly, what they have said to date is that they want to remain with their siblings and in their communities as much as possible, and to have “as normal a childhood as possible” – in school and with opportunities for play and other local activities. To achieve these goals, everyone will have to become increasingly involved in providing the necessary back-up and support that these children need, in order to guarantee themselves – and through them, our nation – a viable future.
Box 2 I don’t have anyone to talk to about my problems. My cousin is too busy. She is a cleaner at the hospital and we are seven children in this small house. (18 year old Namibian boy living with a cousin)

If it hurts too much, sometimes I cry and then I feel better. (14 year old Namibian girl living with an aunt)

We are hungry all the time. (12 year old boy in a child-headed household)

I want to go to school and be like all the other children. (9 year old girl at a community drop-in centre). (Yates, 2003; Steinitz, observations/2003)
Publication date 2004
Content Language 10000
Publication Location windhoek, Namibia
Keywords HIV/AIDS, Education,
Geography Namibia, Southern Africa
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