Socio-Economic Impacts Of Hiv/aids On Children Headed Households: A Case Study Of Orphan Children In Juja Location, Thika District Central Province, Kenya
This paper presents the findings and recommendations of a study conducted in Juja community in Thika district on "The Social-Economic Impacts of HIV/AIDS on Children Headed Households". A sample of 50 children and adolescents aged between 9 to 18 years old and 10 key informants comprising of community health workers, primary school teachers, representatives from chiefs office and NGO working with orphans and vulnerable children in Juja was selected. A combination of four research methods which included key informants, in-depth interviews, direct observation, focus group discussions and case studies were used to identify the factors leading to formation of child headed households, the challenges and risks which they encounter in meeting their needs, how the orphans cope with the demanding tasks, the psychological trauma of losing parents, social discrimination; and the roles played by the extended families, community members and the government to support the orphans. The analysis confirmed that the emergence of child headed households in Juja has been prompted by the large numbers of maternal orphans who are not absorbed into their extended families. The main reasons identified from the analysis includes; extreme poverty in many rural extended families, and failure by the majority of single mothers in making prior care arrangements for the children before their death. It was noted that this was partly due to discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS particularly by relatives who associate single mothers with prostitution, thus likely to influence orphans to develop immoral behaviour. The analysis also showed that majority of orphans feared going back to relatives who live in the rural areas because they would be discriminated and segregated from children in the foster families. Some of the orphans also felt that they would not cope with rural life since they were born and grew up in Juja and would like to stick to the environment they are familiar with. The problem of property grabbing by relatives also makes the orphans distance themselves from relatives who in most cases try to take over the management of their property for their own benefit. ix From the analysis, it seems that majority of the child headed households are poor and they take responsibilities which are far beyond their ability to manage. As a result, they are plunged into deep economic crisis and social insecurity soon after assuming these responsibilities. Majority of orphans are forced into child labour, where they are confronted with other problems such as unfair pay and sexual exploitation. It was noted from focus group discussion that sexual exploitation is a serious problem among adolescents living in Juja. This problem was clearly revealed by the number of adolescent participants (76%) who take care of their own children in addition to siblings without support from those who fathered the children. The study also revealed that extreme poverty in the households headed by orphan children pushes majority of orphans out of school. This was confirmed from the small number of participants (4.2%) who were able to continue with secondary and vocational training with some help from relatives, otherwise majority of the orphans attended primary school only. Malnutrition among the under five years old was as high as 68% in households headed by children and single mothers. Considering that the study was conducted in a sub-urban environment, the participation of the extended families and community members in the care and support for orphans is very minimal. However, some NGOs do offer supportlike food and clothing to the very poor orphans. The study demonstrates that as the orphans are pushed away from the extended families due to poverty and fear of HIV infections, more and more children headed homes emerge. Given that majority of the orphans are young and very poor, and considering that social services provided by the government are inadequate, many of the orphans become victims of child labour exploitation, sexual abuse and discrimination as they struggle to survive. The recommendations emphasizes on educating single mothers about safe sex and family planning, while provision of the necessary birth control methods and antiretroviral drugs to those already infected with HIV is necessary in order to minimize the number of maternal orphans and prolong the lives of single mothers. x It was also recommended to strengthen the capacities of the extended families and community members so that they may participate fully in taking care of orphan children such as fostering of children by community members, rather than the extended families only. It is important at this juncture to note that some of the older children who have already assumed responsibility of heading households may not accept to go back to their relatives or to other foster families. In this case, the capacities for these orphans should be developed through education, economic and psychological support so that they may be able to handle those responsibilities with minimum difficulties. The government has important a role to play by ensuring that the basic social services including health care, free education and proper shelters are provided to reach orphans and vulnerable children.