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But What About The Children: HIV/AIDS Orphans and Violence » Women's Courage

But What About The Children: HIV/AIDS Orphans and Violence

February 24th, 2011 by vcarcia Leave a reply »

Reading ahead for next week’s readings on aging and elderly women’s state of living, I was reminded that HIV/AIDS and its intersections with violence against women is not merely a system of abuse and oppression that affects the women inflicted with the virus. Instead, this intersection affects family members, particularly the children often caught in the crossfire of the violence and left orphaned once their primary parent has passed away. In many of the readings, the role of elderly women in the third world acting as the primary caregivers of these children once their mothers have passed away inspired me to take a look at how children are affected by the intersection between HIV/AIDS and violence against women.

Children with parents infected with HIV/AIDS are, according to UNICEF, deprived of their first line of protection—their parents. Reasons include being separated from their parents (particularly if they work as sex workers), being kept in prolonged hospital care, and being detained in or refused educational, remand, or correctional or penal facilities as a result of their parents’ status. In addition, over 25 million children are currently orphaned by HIV/AIDS, which speaks to the far-reaching effects of the virus. (1)

Although there are studies and cases done worldwide on the ravages of AIDS and violence on children, I want to focus on a case study done in Uganda by the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children, particularly because violence against children is often committed alongside violence against their mothers. Ugands itself is a country that continues to deal with the devastating effects of the virus and the country itself has one of the highest number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. One of the most visible effects of the ravages of HIV has been the stigma and discrimination often ascribed to the orphans, a factor that is contributing to psychological harm, a form of abuse and violence committed against them. And while this abuse is often perpetrated by the guardians of the orphans (after their parents have died), much of the abuse happens at the hand of fellow children.

Parents are also a source of abuse and discrimination. Very often the children will get placed in the hands of fathers or aunts and uncles who perpetually abuse and discriminate against them as a result of their mothers’ death and status. This abuse most often takes the form of caning and hitting. Very often this abuse was understood “to be the guardians’ anger and frustration about having to care for the orphans when their resources were limited.” (2) Specific reasons included bed-wetting, late return home from school, and slow completion of household chores, although these were often just surface reasons meant to hide the true frustrations of the adults.

Verbal abuse was another significant method of violence against the children. Testimonies from children themselves described the abuse in detail.

“You orphan, we are suffering with you. Your mother gave us nothing; now we are stuck

with you.”

“You orphan, you are so stupid. You eat too much when you don’t dig.”

“Why do you come back late from school? You have no mother.”

“Where will you go now that your father has died of AIDS? Who will pay your school fees?”

“Your mother brought AIDS and shame to our family.”

“It’s not me who gave birth to you so why should I spend money on you?”

“You child of bad omen.”

“You are a dead body.”(3)

Lastly, the role of HIV/AIDS itself was a source of constant torment for these children, most hyper-aware of their status and its effect on themselves, their families, and their communities. Many orphans were thought or feared to have HIV/AIDS and many expressed shame that their parents had died of the disease and feared of retaliation and violence if their status was found out. Numerous research participants said that the origin of discrimination against infected orphans was the view that they were not worth caring for, since they were going to die anyway.

As one can see, violence and HIV/AIDS not only affects the women infected but their children as well. The stigma and shame associated with HIV/AIDS (part of what causes the violence aimed at infected women) likewise catalyzes violence against children, infected and otherwise. The United Nations itself has attempted to recommend possible solutions to this abuse. Some of these include:

  • assert the right of all children to protection from all forms of violence, and the need for effective human rights mechanisms and legal frameworks at international, regional and national levels

to promote and safeguard this right;

  • draw attention, through the UN General Assembly and other international, national, and sub-national mechanisms, to the scale and nature of violence against children, especially less

visible forms;

  • motivate States to fulfil their obligations to protect children and make commitments with regard to prevention, intervention and recovery related to violence against children;
  • expand and activate dynamic and effective networks and partnerships directed at the elimination of violence against children, at international, national and local levels; and
  • expand dynamic key networks and processes to support and partner with States to respond to the situation of violence against children. (4)

(1)    http://www.unicef.org/protection/index_orphans.html

(2-4) http://www.globalempowerment.org/policyadvocacy/pahome2.5.nsf/allreports/88D92CF19F341A7A8825704500251541/$file/VAC%20Uganda_web.pdf

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