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Orphans and Child-Headed Households

UNICEF reports that there are an estimate 3.7 million orphans in South Africa with 150 000 children believed to be living in child-headed households.

What does child-headed households mean?

A child-headed household can be described as a household where the head of the family and main caregiver is a minor under the age of 18. These minors have to provide for the family and take on the responsibilities of adults as their parents have passed and they have no relatives to take them in. In South Africa UNICEF reports an estimated 3.7 million orphans with many more children living with sick or bedridden caregivers unable to provide them with the financial and emotional support required for optimal education and growth.

Children living in child-headed households

A 2006 study by Children Count and the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute has shown that 44% of child-headed households consisted of only one child while most child-headed have between one and three members. 55% of children living in these households are 14 or older with 88% of child-headed households including at least one child who is 15 or older.

Poverty and child-headed households

In addition to the emotional strain, children living without proper adult care and protection are also more exposed to be abused and exploited, making them vulnerable to fall into poverty. With no adults to take care of them and without the proper papers, children heading their own families have no access to social grants, education and healthcare. In order to scrape by and provide a means to survive, these children drop out of school to take care of their siblings and to provide food on their tables.

Volunteer organisational support

Volunteer organisations such as Dreams To Reality aim to address the lack of funds and resources by providing educational and financial support to the communities of Capricon, Vrygrond and Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town. As many families cannot afford day care facilities and basic education, DTR provides volunteers from abroad with the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. DTR programmes include Teaching, Childcare, Computer training, Sports Development and Surf Outreach projects.

Community Media Trust Video

Community Media Trust, a not-for-profit media production company, has produced educational series in the fields of health, HIV and AIDS, education, gender-based violence and other topics of Human Rights and social development since 1998. The below video follows the life of Rebecca who has to take care of her 6 siblings after her parents passed away from HIV AIDS.


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