1.3M Children Living with HIV/AIDS, UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Reports
Today, 1.3 million children under 15 years of age are living with HIV/AIDS -- an "overwhelming majority" born to women with HIV, according to a new report by UNICEF, titled State of the World's Children 2001. Most of these children acquire the virus in the womb, during delivery or through breastfeeding. The number of children who have lost their parents to AIDS is increasing, as previous estimates that more than 13 million children worldwide would become AIDS orphans by the year 2001 were surpassed in 1999. UNICEF reports that "the worst is yet to come," with 5.4 million new HIV infections reported worldwide in 1999. AIDS orphans are likely to be "malnourished, unschooled and aged beyond their years, with their rights to grow and develop fully, violated," the report states, citing a study conducted in Zambia that showed that 32% of AIDS orphans in cities and 68% of AIDS orphans in rural areas were not enrolled in school. Moreover, children orphaned by AIDS are more likely to become infected with HIV themselves, as they are more likely to "seek comfort in risky sexual behavior." In addition, these "financially desperate" children are more likely to be "exploited, often turning to prostitution for survival."
Addressing the Issue
The UNICEF report applauds African countries that "have responded to the AIDS crisis with courage and resourcefulness," by recognizing "the importance of the first months and years of a child's life" and "caring for their youngest children during the epidemic." The report states that "[e]arly childhood care offers a chance to support the most vulnerable casualties of the AIDS crisis. It is also essential to begin educating children from an early age about how to stay safe and healthy. Knowledge is a child's most potent defense against this deadly disease" (UNICEF, State of the World's Children 2001, 12/2000).