Orphans in dire straits

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 IN this edition we carry a harrowing story about the plight of orphans in Lesotho.

Much has been written about the predicament of orphans but it looks like much still needs to be done to mitigate their suffering.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are well over 160 000 orphans in Lesotho.

This translates to almost 10 percent of the country’s 1.8 million people.

The majority of these orphans have lost either one or both parents to Aids.

At least 23 percent of Lesotho’s population is infected with HIV which causes Aids.

International relief agencies say Lesotho has the third highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.

Lesotho lies at the epicentre of the Aids pandemic which is mowing down at least 23 000 people every year.

These are worrying statistics.

As mentioned in our story we have 16-year-olds looking after other children some as young as nine.

Reports indicate that there are many such child-headed families across Lesotho which is quite worrying.

The touching story carried in this edition is a microcosm of what is happening across the Kingdom.

Most of these children are in dire straits and can hardly cope.

The extended family system which acted as an effective social safety net in the past is virtually non-existent these days.

Even the communities which used to chip in and assist are also failing to help look after these vulnerable children.

These children are in real dire straits.

In his budget statement in February, Finance Minister Timothy Thahane announced an ambitious programme to assist orphans. Thahane said the government would provide quarterly grants of M360 to orphans as part of its intervention strategy to fight Aids.

The government said it was working closely with donor agencies such as the European Union and Unicef to provide assistance to cover such areas such as education, health, food security and HIV prevention.

While the child grants programme is welcome what it offers is still a drop in the ocean.

Reports coming from the districts indicate that not all is well in the implementation of the programme.

Six months after Thahane made the announcement in parliament some households are still to receive any cash handouts.

It looks like there are grumblings of discontent in the selection of orphans who qualify for the programme.

The selection of deserving orphans is being handled by village verification committees which forward the names of the poorest and most deserving cases in their communities.

But it looks like some villagers are complaining that they are being over-looked in the selection process for the disbursement of the cash grants.

As a result some children are still going to bed on an empty stomach.

If this is a result of government bureaucracy or plain incompetence on the part of government officials it must be exposed and corrected.

The child grants programme is a brilliant idea.

The programme is clearly meant to supplement the incomes of poor households that are caring for orphans and vulnerable children.

We would want to see the government and aid relief agencies sitting down after a year to review the implementation and effectiveness of the programme.

Most brilliant programmes are unfortunately allowed to fail if there is no effective monitoring and assessment of progress.

We should not allow such a scenario to take place given the amount of goodwill that Lesotho enjoys from donor agencies.

Admittedly the cash disbursements, which are done every three months, are not the ultimate solution to the plight of orphans.

But these disbursements can go a long way in assisting orphans to cope under very difficult conditions.

The government and donor agencies must fine-tune the programme to ensure that all deserving cases are catered for.

It is also important that the government enacts relevant legislation such as the Child Protection and Welfare Bill to protect vulnerable children.

Legislation alone might not be enough but it will provide a proper environment to deal with the current crisis affecting orphans.

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