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Group's Report On AIDS Not Balanced

The Nation (Nairobi), 26 June 2001

The recent Human Rights Watch report on Aids and orphans raises fundamental points of concern, both for civil society and the Kenya Government.

The first centres on the use of the term "Aids orphans". There is no denying that there are clear challenges that affect children whose parents have died of Aids.

There is also no denying that there is a stigma attached to this disease when certain categories of children are identified by the cause of their parents' death.

Catchy and convenient as the terminology may be, it eventually serves to isolate them from other members of society.

Children are being orphaned every day in Kenya for various reasons, including Aids. The challenges such children face are uniform throughout society, essentially because poverty has eroded the traditional safeguards which were once a given in the African way of life.

While we support the Human Rights Watch position that the children of Aids victims tend to be tarred by the same brush as their parents, it is also important that we avoid generalisations that distort the broader picture - particularly when the conclusions are less than honest.

While several homes for orphans have come up in largely urbanised communities, the majority of them are still taken care of by relatives. We need to find ways and means to support such families.

The high number of orphans should be sufficient cause for concern for Kenyan policymakers, particularly in the areas of education and health - where cost-sharing has hit vulnerable segments of society.

We must develop safety nets for the poor to ensure girls dropping out of school for any reason do not resort to prostitution to make a living. The number of street children has no doubt been boosted by children whose family lives have been torn asunder by a combination of poverty, family violence and Aids.

So let us come up with policies that guarantee Kenyan children a minimum level of education and health-care wherever they are, and protect them from the worst effects of a breakdown in traditional values.

While the situation has deteriorated in recent times, we need to urgently recognise that matters have been exacerbated by the rapid rate of death of Kenyans in the prime of their lives.

This should not be a task left solely to the Government. Dealing with the devastation of HIV/Aids is the responsibility of parents and civil society too.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).