Day of the African Child: Focus on Orphans and Vulnerable Children

On June 16, 1971, thousands of South African school children protested the inferiority of their education and the right to be taught in their native languages, and many were killed or injured for speaking out. Since then, advocates mark June 16th, the Day of the African Child, by calling attention to the need to improve the lives of African children. This feature highlights one way URC works to address the needs of African children. 

As of 2009, there were an estimated 2.3 million children between birth to 14 years of age living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO). Furthermore, estimates show that 14.8 million children between birth and 17 years of age had been orphaned due to AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC), girls and boys who are infected or affected by HIV, are often more vulnerable and at risk of becoming victims of violence, exploitation, trafficking, discrimination or other abuses, according to UNICEF.

The USAID Health Care Improvement (HCI) Project, led by URC, leads the Care That Counts Initiative, a partnership of the US Agency for International Development and programs providing services to orphans and vulnerable children. The partnership seeks to improve the quality of care for these children affected by HIV/AIDS. HCI assists providers of services for orphans and vulnerable children in using quality improvement approaches to strengthen programs, enhance OVC services, and use data to help providers meet OVC service standards. In developing these service standards, HCI incorporates the views of children about their needs.

Children Share Concerns at Abuja Workshop

Group ranking of OVC service standards
Group ranking of OVC service standards

For example, HCI recently held a Children's Workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, to evaluate services provided for orphans and vulnerable children, in coordination with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Save the Children, and Hope Worldwide Nigeria.

What made this workshop unique is that 28 children who receive the services were invited to travel to Abuja to attend the workshop, share their needs and concerns as recipients of the programs, and suggest how services could be improved to help them achieve their dreams.

During the two-day workshop, the youth shared both positive and negative experiences. For example, one child spoke of inconsistencies in disbursement of school fees that cause interruptions to a student's ability to go to school and another spoke about children who might receive a school uniform and supplies before books required for schoolwork. Many of the youth expressed big dreams for themselves, including becoming doctors and government officials. Each child discussed what they as individuals need to do for themselves to attain their goals and also how their families, communities, government, and service providers can assist them to realize their dreams.

HCI programs focusing on Orphans and Vulnerable Children

In addition to Nigeria, the HCI Project also provides orphans and vulnerable children services in eight countries. Below are some highlights of URC's ongoing OVC work through the HCI Project:

In Kenya, where there are an estimated 2.5 million vulnerable children, HCI has worked with eight NGOs for the past year to pilot standards of care and develop tools for program staff to assess the gaps in their services. In the Starehe district, an NGO that has been piloting the standards found that the percentage of children exhibiting behavioral problems decreased from 94% at baseline to 18% after implementation of the standards of care.

In Mozambique, through HCI's technical assistance at the community level, one local group discovered that more than 100 children lacked birth registration documents, which are required to access a number of services in the country, including education. In response to this need, the community was able to obtain birth registration and enroll 64 of these children in school.

In Cote d'Ivoire, HCI has worked with 61 NGOs in four sites to help improve quality of life for vulnerable children, and found reductions in the number of children with poor or irregular access to food and fewer students struggling with learning problems.

In Tanzania, HCI is working with in-country partners to develop a manual and create job aids to communicate the national guidelines for care of vulnerable children, based on the policy developed by the Ministry of Health.

In Malawi, HCI, in coordination with local stakeholders, developed draft standards, and is currently organizing a training of coaches.

In Zambia, HCI is working with the National AIDS Council to gather input on the draft standards for OVC services that have been developed. HCI is also in the process of planning a children's workshop similar to the one recently held in Nigeria.

Beyond Sub-Saharan Africa

HCI also works with service providers for orphans and vulnerable children in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Haiti, where there are an estimated 404,000 orphans, nearly half of whom are living with HIV, HCI facilitated a workshop with representatives from 22 organizations during which participants produced standards in seven areas critical to child well-being. Several participants volunteered to continue working on developing the standards and expressed interest that their organization be considered as a piloting site.

June 16, 2011