Number of African AIDS Orphans, Orphan Centers Growing While Traditional Family Support Breaks Down
The number of African orphans has steadily grown since the early 1990s as parents have died from AIDS-related complications or abandoned their children due to their illness, giving rise to orphanages often funded by American charities, the Christian Science Monitor/Washington Times reports. Prior to the onset of the AIDS epidemic, 2% of children in the developing world were orphans. Now, largely because of the effects of the disease, 10% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are parentless, according to U.N. estimates. Traditionally, extended family took in children when their parents died, but the "huge" number of orphans and the stigma associated with AIDS have broken down traditional family practices, causing many people to turn orphaned relatives away. "Fewer and fewer relations are willing to take in orphans," Roselyn Mutemi Wangahu, who led a UNICEF study on AIDS orphans in Kenya, said. Those who do take in relatives often treat them as "second-class members of the family," sometimes abusing the children or "forc[ing]" them to work. However, most people Wangahu surveyed said they "preferred institutionalizing" the children. "They've realized they are not able to cope anymore," she explained. According to Clive Beckenham, director of the New Life Home in Nairobi, Kenya, more than 90% of the infants brought to his center "eventually test negative" for HIV.
A Rise in Children's Homes
The large number of orphans, coupled with the lack of familial support, has given rise to many new orphanages throughout sub-Saharan Africa, mostly funded by American charities, the Monitor/Times reports. Feed the Children, an Oklahoma-based group, recently opened the $300,000 Frances Jones Abandoned Baby Center in Nairobi. Almost all of the money for the center came from the United States. International Children's Care, a development and relief agency based in Washington state, is opening five orphanages near Ndolo, a copper-mining town in Zambia, while Gospa Missions, a Pennsylvania-based missionary group, is raising money to build a facility in Ogoja, Nigeria. Despite the wave of new centers, the need remains for more. "If we promoted this facility today, we would have it full tomorrow," Ian Harris, international director for Feed the Children, said, adding that without advertising, they have had inquiries from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa about setting up similar centers there. "It's something I don't think governments have come to terms with," he said. Most of the orphanages are not meant to be "long-term" homes for the children, as many of the centers have staff devoted to finding foster homes or adoptive arrangements for the children. Several homes, such as the Frances Jones Center, are also including community outreach programs on HIV prevention as part of their services (Crawley, Christian Science Monitor/Washington Times, 8/9).