Defining 'Orphans and Vulnerable Children' (OVC) by Philipp Bernhardt, 05/2009
Foster (2006), among other authors, observed that orphans remained the primary focus for international assistance to children affected by HIV/AIDS, however many children are left vulnerable from the epidemic who are not orphans. Thus, the term 'orphans and vulnerable children' (OVC) was introduced among the humanitarian aid community and subsequently governments to categorize all children affected by AIDS. By USAID and UNICEF an orphan is defined as a child under fifteen, who has lost her/his mother (maternal orphan), or both parents (double orphan) to AIDS. (USAID/UNICEF 2004)
Traditionally, these children were taken care of by the extended family, but due to the rapid increase in the number of orphans, especially among the very poor, their care has become a problem and more and more children are left to fend for themselves. (Save the Children 2003) There is no standard definition for vulnerability. World Vision (2002) lists indicators such as children who live in households in which one person is ill, dying or deceased or children whose primary caregiver is old and frail. These indicators are in relation to HIV. However, there is an entirely different set of indicators relating to general aspects of vulnerability such as poverty, access to shelter, food, education and other basic services. Impacts from drought, stigma and political instability are also factors that can lead to vulnerability. One might argue that the scope of the term should be expanded to include children who are orphaned or rendered vulnerable from other causes, just as those affected by HIV/AIDS.
The term OVC must itself be used carefully as singling out OVC from the rest of the population can cause them problems including stigma. Giese et al (2003, p. 14) state that 'stigma increases the likelihood of social exclusion and isolation'. This would render OVC even more vulnerable. The situation of children affected by HIV is similar to that of children rendered vulnerable from poverty. Save the Children UK (2003, p.1) recommends that 'the management of orphans should occur within the context of poverty'.
OVC - difficult to define
Poluha (2007) notes that the term "vulnerable" is used by NGOs to designate those children whose lives are particularly hazardous. These include, for example, orphans and street children who are often seen in the streets of the cities in developing countries. The major problem, that vulnerable children and orphans face are access to food, shelter, medical care, education and caretakers. To solve these problems the children's own coping strategies are to reduce food intake and to generate an income through manual and menial work. These children turn to NGOs, the church or mosque for assistance, whereas others try staying together as a family.
"Infancy is the period in childhood in which the foundations for future development are laid. It is also the period during which the child is most dependent, most vulnerable to harmful aspects of the environment, and needs the most protection from various diseases, hazards, and handicaps." (Ohuche & Otaala 1981, p. 39)
Poluha (2004) highlights that 80% of Ethiopia's population resides in the countryside and that there are about 100 children in each class, sitting 3-5 per bench - this being the case if there is a school at all. It is difficult for the students even to find table space on which to write their notes. Whereas boys are treated more liberal by their relatives or foster parents, girls' use of time is strictly regulated in relation to space. At home, much of their time is spent on work, directly affecting their performance at school. Rural children are supposed to work even when they are small and they usually do not have three meals a day. In addition, the practice of corporal punishment both, at home and in school bring bodily harm and injuries to many children. Many children as young as eight are taking care of their siblings due to HIV/AIDS infected family members. These children face ostracism from the community, loneliness and even exclusion from schools and living areas. Many of the OVC in Africa do not assist school due the disadvantaged environment they grow up in.
The orphans disadvantage in school enrolment could be eliminated, if education policies bearing on education were less restrictive, e.g. with no fees or uniforms. In Uganda, through streamlined policies, the difference between foster and non-foster children, which still existed in 1998, disappeared by 2002. (Subbarao & Coury 2004, p. 17)
Great Ethiopian Run - Addis Ababa - How many OVC?
It can be argued that particularly orphans should be educated, because education opens the door to future economic opportunities and provides confidence and critical-thinking skills as discussed in chapter 1. This is of importance because orphans tend to confuse fantasy and reality as a result of their less mature cognitive development. Furthermore these young children may carry an extreme burden of guilt related to their parent's death.
The misperceptions can be further reinforced in cultures such as in Ethiopia in which the cause of death is not openly discussed among society and communities because of the ubiquitous stigma associated with AIDS. (Singhal & Howard 2003) Who really takes care of OVC in Africa? Apparently, in most cases it is the relatives that assist OVC during their childhood.
"Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, fostering within family lines remains the most common safety net for the care of orphans. In rural Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia for example, 95 % of the orphans are taken care of by relatives." (Subbarao & Coury 2004, p. 26) Subbarao and Coury have written extensively on the impacts parental loss has on the OVC.
Ohuche & Otaala (1981) point out that "it is one of the ironies of modern African life that the rural areas, where the majority of the children in Africa are born and raised, tend to be neglected by the governments." (p. 11) Seemingly it is precisely the zones where the largest penetration of OVC is based where there is a need to construct more schools close to where people live, so that OVC, especially girls do not have to walk such a long distance to reach educational facilities.
47% of the Ethiopians are below 15 years old - a huge burden for government
The crisis of HIV/AIDS is big and widespread across the country, thus the impact on the environment of OVC is enormous. Due to HIV illnesses there are a high number of teachers not attending class in places where there are schools. This does not contribute to a constant and professional education for the OVC of Ethiopia. Chaudhury et al (2005) stress that with one in five government primary-school teachers and more than a third of health workers absent from their facilities, developing countries are wasting considerable resources and missing opportunities to educate their children and improve the health of their populations. The direct implication to this is that Ethiopia's government, with the help of donor nations, must train more teachers, so that AIDS does not decimate their numbers. International donors might also address the teacher shortage by providing funds to improve the salaries that teachers receive. This could encourage the next generation ofstudents to become a teacher but also already qualified teachers may take their job more serious. Poluha (2004) sums this point up by stating that "Ethiopia's major problems are a low school enrolment ratio of pupils and the lack of teachers in general but qualified teachers in particular. Moreover, there is still an insufficient budget to supply the schools with what they need." (p. 31)
Children in Ethiopia seem to be neglected not only by the government but also in general by the society and the media. There are three radio stations in Ethiopia (Voice of Ethiopia, F.M. Radio and Fana Radio). Although Ethiopians under 18 comprise a large portion of the population, there are very few programs made specifically for this age group. (Teka 2000, p.49) Since radio is the most important source for entertainment, information and news in Ethiopia, special programs dedicated to the youth could be of enormous value for promoting school education and job opportunities, but also to motivate children and provide them with inspiring and animating programs, thus strengthening their hope for the future. Assisting children with education, care and love, weather orphans or non-orphans, during their childhood is of great importance, because the childhood is the period in which children develop individual friendships and acquiresome of the basic skills that will be required for adult life. (Bee & Boyd 2000)