UNICEF calls for expansion of orphan care programmes

Botswana's orphan population continues to grow as a consequence of AIDS, but just under half the children receive no official assistance, according to a joint United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Botswana government report.

The report, released in December, includes the results of a 2003 survey of living conditions and existing orphan support services, and observed that the country now has 78,000 orphans under the age of 15. Of these, 42,000 are registered and receiving assistance from the Department of Social Services, in addition to support from community-based organisations, but an estimated 36,000 are not registered and fall outside the net.

"About 25,000 receive government assistance in the form of food baskets and other basic needs. If the current trend of HIV/AIDS infection continues, an unprecedented number of children will be left without parental care, and traditional caring mechanisms will soon be unable to cope. The number of child-headed households will increase significantly," reads part of the UNICEF country report.

The agency commented that household incomes drop when HIV hit families, and children begin to suffer even before their parents die. Children, especially girls, drop out of school for lack of support and money, and the trauma surrounding the sickness and death of parents affects their emotional development.

Girl children are often left with the burden of heading families, a situation which forces them to work under potentially exploitative conditions.

The report noted that UNICEF is collaborating with a number of community-based church and private organisations to provide care and support to the affected children, including counselling, and linking them where possible to their extended families.

Day care services for children aged one to six are available at centres in the capital, Gaborone, and in Francistown, Maun, Kgalagadi North, Mogoditshane and Molepolole. In the course of 2003 UNICEF assisted some 2,500 orphans through initiatives with community-based organisations.

Apart from assisting orphans to return to school, the programmes also provide learning aids, and recreational and sporting equipment to support pychosocial services.

Botswana has one of the world's highest HIV/AIDS infection rates. The report recommended an expansion of existing services to reach needy orphans who are not yet registered with either government or community-based care programmes.