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ECONOMY-AFRICA: HIV/AIDS Reduces Children’s Education Chances

Miriam Mannak

CAPE TOWN, Jun 12 2008 (IPS) - Children who live in communities with an HIV prevalence rate of 10 percent or more have half a year of schooling less than children in other communities.

In this way the negative consequences of HIV/AIDS are felt beyond the families that are directly affected.

These facts were presented at a World Bank conference in South Africa by Robert Greener, senior economic adviser at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Greener was speaking at the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE), which ended in Cape Town yesterday (Jun 11). The theme for this year was ‘‘People, Politics, and Globalisation’’. The conference was co-hosted by the South African government’s treasury department.

Greener also said that children who lose one or both parents to HIV/AIDS are less likely to remain in school and complete their education than other children. In the long run, this will have negative effects on African economies.

HIV/AIDS hampers ‘‘knowledge and skills transmission from one generation to the next which, over time, results in the loss of human capital. This also has an impact on economic growth. Economies need educated and skilled people’’, Greener told the conference.

The conference also heard that the prospect of a child remaining in and eventually completing school is much more likely in female-headed households.

‘‘In African households, it is usually the father who decides whether a child goes to school or not. However, it is the mother who decides how long the child will enjoy an education," explained Natalia Trofimenko of the Kiel Institute for World Economy, a research institution attached to the University of Kiel in Germany.

‘‘According to our statistics, children growing up in female-headed households are more likely to stay in and finish school compared to their counterparts who live in male-headed households.’’

For Trofimenko the education of women and girls is not only important for improving their life opportunities as individuals. ‘‘When you educate a girl, you increase the chances of her future children to attend and complete school,’’ she said.

Apart from the good news about female-headed households, HIV/AIDS has a worse effect on girls’ than on boys’ education. Aparnaa Somanathan, a World Bank health economist at the World Bank, explained the gendered effect of HIV/AIDS on families.

It is usually the older female sibling that is pulled out of school, especially after the death of the mother. ‘‘Younger siblings, especially boys, will remain in school,’’ according to Somanathan.

Samwel Otieno of Kenya’s agriculture ministry indicated that girls are also more likely to be married off early, which means the end of their school education.

Generally, children who have lost one or both parents as a result of HIV/AIDS are more likely to drop out of or be taken out of school. ‘‘Children that have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS have on average one year less of education then non-orphans,’’ Trofimenko said.

This happens because they either drop out due to the emotional and psychological stress or because they are needed at home.

According to Trofimenko, older children have a greater chance of quitting when one of the parents dies or gets sick. ‘‘Due to their age, these children are more likely to become the designated person to take over the tasks of the missing or sick parent.’’

Another factor causing AIDS orphans to leave school prematurely can be found in the financial constraints that HIV/AIDS causes. ‘‘Due to high medical bills and the costs of funerals the remaining parent is less likely to keep the children in school – simply because he or she cannot afford it,’’ Trofimenko explained.

Children that have lost both parents to HIV/AIDS and are absorbed in extended families also have a smaller chance of finishing school. ‘‘Foster parents might have a different idea about the necessity of education then the child’s birth parents,’’ argued Trofimenko.

The foster family’s financial situation also plays a big role in whether or not the foster child is kept in school.

Taking these and other factors into consideration, it is crucial to provide HIV-positive adults with anti-retrovirals (ARVs), says Trofimenko. ARVs are medication that is used to prolong the lives of HIV-positive people.

‘‘Postponing the death of parents is crucial,’’ she says. ‘‘When extending the life of the parents, you not only improve the child’s overall quality of life but you also increase his or her chance to complete school. This has a positive impact on a child’s life later on.’’

According to figures by the United Nations, the worldwide number of children who lost their parents to HIV/AIDS has increased from 8.5 million in 2000 to 14 million in 2006. About 80 percent of them live in Africa. These figures exclude the millions of children whose parents are terminally ill due to AIDS-related causes.

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