Namibia's Aids orphans forced into early parentingBy AFRICA REVIEW CORRESPONDENT in Windhoek | Wednesday, June 13 2012 at 08:48
It takes a village to raise a child, the saying goes. But the popular adage does not appear to hold true for Namibian children orphaned by Aids. The high rate of infection in the southern African country has had an impact on the status of families as parents succumb to the disease leaving their children to fend for themselves.
At 13 per cent, the HIV prevalence rate is one of the highest in the entire world. Apart from its social implications, the condition is becoming an economic problem too: the most productive age group (25-44 years) also accounts for the highest number of infections.
And although the government of Namibia has made the fight against Aids a national priority, some 6,700 people die every year due to its complications.
The low rate of HIV testing means that many only find out they have the virus when it is too late to start effective treatment.
Independent studies show that thousands of children, especially in impoverished rural areas, are forced to take over households and care for their siblings after their parents’ death.
Many Aids orphans live in poverty and lack the means to attend school. Without an education, they have little or no chance of ever escaping destitution.
The sense of hopelessness, as well as the existence of economic pressures to provide sex in exchange for food, places these children at high risk of becoming infected themselves and being conduits to the epidemic’s spread.
Twenty-four year old Annemarie Witbooi, who lives in a corrugated iron shack in the informal settlement of Ombili on the outskirts of the Namibian capital, Windhoek, is one such person that has had to abandon her dreams and assume parental responsibilities over her siblings.
It is from this informal housing structure where she struggles to eke out a living with her two younger sisters, aged 16 and 14 years.
The three lost their mother five years ago to Aids and have not seen their father for years. Annemarie tells us that their father abandoned the family while the girls were still young.
For a few months after the mother’s death, they lived off the meagre pension which they received from her former employer.
Annemarie however had to look for some kind of cleaning work to enable her sisters to attend school after the money ran out. She never finished secondary school herself as she failed Grade 10 and did not return to school, rather opting to help her sickly mother-- a cleaner at a local private company for many years--around the house.
Tired of us
After her mother died, Annemarie had to find a way to make money and she got a job as a domestic worker two years ago.
She told the Africa Review that her family moved from Karasburg in southern Namibia some 12 years ago, when their father left them to move in with another woman, forcing her mother to venture into the city – almost 700km away to look for work.
“We lived with a friend of my mom’s for about a year, but she also got tired of us because we were too many for her to feed and my mum was struggling to get work.
“But by God's grace her friend helped her to find a job as a cleaner. My mum was always a strong and proud person and would never let anything get her down.
“After she got her job, she bought corrugated iron sheets and other material and then started to build our new home,” Annemarie recalls.
She said she always took care of her younger siblings when she came from school, until their mother came back home from work.
According to her, they have very good neighbours who have helped them a lot to come to terms with the death of her mother and the tasks that lay ahead.
“My mother built us a good home; even though it was a ‘kambashu’ (shack) and we never went hungry as she made sure that we always had food in the house. But a few years ago she started getting sick and coughing all the time.
“She was never tested and did not know her HIV status. By the time she went to hospital, she was already too sick. They said she had contracted tuberculosis (TB) and she deteriorated quickly because she was also HIV-positive,” said the young woman sadly.
Their relatives in Karasburg wanted the children to return there but Annemarie refused, as she feared that there would be more suffering for them in the South due to unemployment and poverty.
“I would have loved to have the opportunity to go to school and finish it, because I always dreamt of being a nurse. Maybe I would have been able to help my mother to get early care because I know people are now getting treatment for that disease.
“But life does not always go the way we want, and I have accepted my life and am happy that I can at least take care of my sisters and make sure they get a better life,” she said.
Annemarie’s story is but a tip of the ice-berg. The current estimate is that Namibia is home to around 140,000 orphans. Seventy thousand of them have been orphaned because of Aids.
In general, female headed households account for nearly half of the overall number of households in the country, primarily owing to the low life expectancy of males and labour migration. The income situation in female-headed families is often precarious. In fact, they account for the highest share of poor households in the country.
It is evident that young children who grow up within these families are more likely to be disadvantaged throughout childhood than other children who grow up with both parents still alive.
- Why Obama is visiting Tanzania
- The girl who met Gaddafi 'in hell'
- Somalia lists 1,345 foreigners in Mogadishu
- After Berlin Man, two reported cured of HIV in Kenya
- Kenyan call girls go high-tech
- Botswana bans fruit and vegetable imports
- London terror suspect had been detained in Kenya
- Ethiopia's anti-female cut crusader honoured
- Tough life for Eritreans two decades after independence
Beyond the ballot