BURKINA FASO: Government tackles rising number of abandoned children
OUAGADOUGOU, 6 April 2004 (IRIN) - The government of Burkina Faso has outlined a new strategy for working with NGO’s and local communities to cope with the rising number of orphans and abandoned children in this poor and semi-arid West African country.
According to government statistics, there were 2.1 million orphans and abandoned children in Burkina Faso last year. They accounted for nearly 18 percent of the country’s 11.8 million population.
The government blames the rising number of helpless children on AIDS, poverty and child trafficking.
An officially estimated 6.5 percent of the Burkinabe population are HIV positive and nearly two thirds of the country’s inhabitants scrape by on less than a dollar a day.
The government’s aim, outlined in a strategy paper last month, is to improve specialisation across the health and education sectors and to provide a clear focus on how to cope with the rising number of children in need of care.
It also wants to strengthen the host communities which care for these often traumatised children.
“We have already people working towards these goals [of child protection], but they lack clear focus and sometimes don’t know how to get the best results from their efforts,” said Agnes Kabore the government’s director general of Social Welfare.
“We stress that the role of the family needs to be strengthened and seek to develop a community response to the problem because no institution can replace the family setting,” she added.
World Bank statistics show that 40% of households in 10 of Burkina Faso’s 45 provinces, care for an orphan.
AIDS has been singled out as the single biggest factor that deprives children of their parents.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that as the HIV infection rate increases, so too will the number of orphans.
In 2001 there were 769,000 orphans in Burkina Faso, of whom 268,000, or 35 percent, had lost their parents to AIDS.
UNICEF predicts that by 2010 44 percent of all orphans in Burkina Faso will have lost at least one of their parents to the disease.
The organisation has calculated that AIDS has reduced life expectancy rate in Burkina Faso by eight years. It reckons that children born between 2000-2005 can only expect to live to an average age of 46.
Poverty is also a key contributing factor to the rise in the number of abandoned children.
According to the World Bank, the average income per capita in Burkina Faso is only US $220 per year. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 61 percent of the population scrape by on less than a dollar a day.
The government has identified child trafficking as a third contributing factor to the problem. Between 2000 and 2003, at least 2000 children are known to have been involved in the illegal trade in Burkina Faso.
Children, separated from their families by unscrupulous individuals who promise the impoverished parents that the child will have better life with another family, end up with no one to protect them. Many are little more than unpaid domestic slaves. Others end up in crime or prostitution.
Many runaways can end up on the streets, unable to trace their families or find their way back home.
UNICEF’s head of programme in Burkina Faso, Dr Marie Berthe Ouedraogo, deplored the plight of orphaned and vulnerable children and said that “the situation needs to be addressed quickly”.
The perils for orphaned and unprotected children are numerous. Thousands each year end up as street children who beg to survive.
Many orphans are taken in by members of the extended family, but here too there are difficulties.
Henry, a resident of Burkina Faso’s second city Bobo-Dioulasso who did not want to give his surname, told IRIN that he adopted a young nephew after his brother died of AIDS. But he said that taking on the new child involved much more than a simple financial burden
“The child needs must be addressed no differently to those of your own children, or if anything given more love because he is in need of what he lost with the death of his parents,” Henry said.