The spread of HIV/AIDS has led to a lot of child-headed households in parts of the world, especially in Africa. In the past, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, or other relatives would care for children after their parents died. But the growing number of children left without parents because of HIV/AIDS means that often families can’t cope with more children as they don’t have enough money, especially if an adult in that household also died from HIV/AIDS so there is less income.
Child-headed households are a growing problem because children have no-one looking out for them and are therefore vulnerable. They often have to drop out of school to work and have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
Children can be treated badly by others they go to for support because they have no economic or physical power and people might look down on them for being the children of AIDS victims. They might be forced to, or see no option but to join armed groups for shelter and meals, have their parents’ property taken away from them and/or be left out on the streets. In some countries they can’t go to the doctor because the doctor will not see them without an adult there. They have to ask their neighbours for support but sometimes their neighbours are too busy to help them, or want nothing to do with them because of how their parents died.
In Zimbabwe, orphans in child-headed households were asked about how they are treated. Many children heading households reported that they are made to feel like outsiders from the local community and from relatives and treated very badly. When they were asked to describe in what way, many answered:
- They are laughed at because of their poverty
- Relatives and community members said their families are cursed because there are so many deaths so people stay away from them
- At school the children are bullied by other children
- The older girls reported that community members no longer treated them as children, even though they treated other girls of the same age with parents as children. The community now saw these girls as "mothers" and expected them to work hard to care for their younger brothers and sisters. As a result, the girls had no friends except those who were also heading child-headed households.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated number of children under 18 orhaned by AIDS more than doubled between 2000 and 2007, reaching 12.1 million. UNICEF has been working to help find child-headed households and make sure that these children are linked to groups and people who can help them.
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