Desperate poverty and HIV/AIDS mean that many children in Zambia live lives of extreme hardship. They face daily oppression and, in some cases, abuse just to survive. Many have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, forcing them to live as burdens to their extended families that are already overstretched, or even find themselves heading up households of their own siblings at a young age. Transactional sex is commonplace, with young girls obliged to sell their bodies in return for money or material goods. Others are forced into early marriages in order to provide for their guardians, as the husband’s family will pay a lobola (bride-price) to the girl’s family. School is a luxury they can ill afford, and many children are kept at home to work the land in order to bring in an income for today, while denying them an education that will provide them a lifeline out of poverty tomorrow.
The psychosocial wellbeing of these orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) is a major consideration of PEPAIDS’. The death of a parent in itself is a huge thing for a child to cope with. The added practical implications of this, such as poverty, loss of security and so on can have a profound impact on a child who already has very little control over their life or the decisions that are made for them. A survey by USAID on the psychosocial wellbeing of OVCs found that a third were reported to have daily conflicts with other children. Given that many orphans are already viewed as a social burden or have the unfathomable responsibility of heading-up a household of younger brothers and sisters, it is conceivable that challenging behaviour resulting from grief and insecurity can compound the situation and make that child’s life even harder. Relexation, fun and games are a rare experience for these children, who have had the roles and responsibilities of adulthood thrust upon them prematurely.
PEPAIDS’ aim is empower the vulnerable to be able to cope and to equip them with the life skills that they need to make their own situation better. Addressing the psychosocial needs of orphans and vulnerable children is a key part of this. We believe that children in Zambia should have the opportunity to be children.