Kampala — HIV/AIDS has forced children to grow up fast. As parents or guardians die of AIDS, the older orphaned children especially girls are forced to take up the responsibility of looking after their siblings, says the Secretary General of National Council for Children, Joyce Otim-Nape.
Research shows that there are nearly 2.5 million children in Uganda orphaned because of AIDS, and most of these end up becoming heads of house holds.
"Death of both parents has left most orphans on their own, with limited opportunity to attend school and of lack family support, forcing them to suffer indignity and child labour," Otim says.
In some cases, elderly grandmothers take up the responsibility of the home. But since they are weak, they are incapable of running a home effectively. After a short time, the grandmothers die and the children are left on their own to bear the task of providing for a home materially and psychologically.
Stephen Lewis, an international envoy for humanitarian efforts in the fight against AIDS, says, "When grandmothers die, given the fragmentation of the extended family, there is no one coming up to look after the children. So you have the phenomenon of child-headed house holds."
Research shows that child-headed households appeared first in Uganda in the early nineties and later in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Now the problem is worldwide.
Partial estimates put the figure of child-headed households as high as three per cent of all households in Zimbabwe, seven per cent in Zambia and 13% in Rwanda.
Doctor Lydia Mungerera, a consultant on hiv/AIDS, says there are many orphans not because AIDS cannot be contained, but because many parents do not take ARVs as they should.
"Some of them do not know their status so they are living with the virus unknowingly and are spreading it. People should go for blood check up to find out their status and if there is need to start positive living and take the right treatment to live longer."
Mungerera says there are many parents who do not access ARVs despite the fact that the number of people accessing the treatment is increasing.
"The population is increasing and those who need the drugs increase, thus many parents who do not access them die quickly and leave orphans behind," Mungherera said.
She advises that those parents who have access to ARVs should take it so that their children are not left behind to suffer.