AIDS Orphans in Nepal Grow Up Too Fast

26/12/2011 - Due to the burden of caring for their families and fending for themselves upon the death of their parents, AIDS orphans in Nepal miss out on the childhoods they should enjoy.

The Himalayan country of Nepal, population 29.8 million, is home to 650,000 orphaned children under the age of 18. One humanitarian organization has estimated that 13,000 children may have lost both parents to AIDS-related illnesses, the AFP reports.
 
In the community of Achham, there are likely 1,500 of these “double-orphans.” If left parentless at an early age, some of these children may never attend school—never attain basic literacy and numeracy skills. Sometimes, when as young as six years old, these children become the heads of their households and parents to their younger siblings. They may work, but often for a pittance that lands them under the extreme poverty line of less than $1.25 per day.
 
Orphans, and AIDS orphans in particular (who must contend with the social stigma surrounding the disease), lose their right to childhood and play in such situations. These exceptionally vulnerable children may be assisted in their material and social needs by their extended families or communities. However, some children may never see fulfilled the special safeguards and care to which their childhoods entitle them.
 
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), there are 64,000 HIV-positive individuals living in Nepal, making the adult prevalence rate about 0.4 per cent. There is no official data from the agency on the number of children living with HIV, but women account for about a third of all cases.
 
Children living with HIV themselves can access anti-retroviral drugs through the government. Still, less than 20 per cent of the eligible population is receiving anti-retroviral medications in Nepal, according to the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2011, entitled “How to Get to Zero: Faster. Smarter. Better.”

Orphaned children, without parents as their first line of defence, are vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labour and sex trafficking. Plan USA estimates that each year, between 7,000 and 10,000 Nepalese girls aged 9-16 are trafficked for prostitution in Indian cities.
 
In 2007, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 40 per cent of all Nepali women trafficked into India for the purposes of sex trafficking were HIV-positive when returning home.
 
Nepal’s country action-plan on HIV/AIDS for 2006-2011 includes an aim to “promote and create demands for voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) prevention services, and care and support for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).”
 
To do so, the government will work to eliminate child labour and exploitation, while making paediatric anti-retroviral therapy available.