Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Poverty & SDGs

LESOTHO: Help At Hand for Orphans

Lloyd Mutungamiri

MASERU, May 4 2009 (IPS) - The Lesotho government – battling against the challenges presented by an ever-growing population of orphans whose parents have succumbed to the AIDS pandemic – has embarked on an ambitious programme aimed at alleviating the suffering of these vulnerable children, in partnership with the European Union and UNICEF.

For the next year, 1200 households in three districts of Mafeteng, Maseru and Qacha’s Nek will receive a quarterly cash grant of 38 dollars in the pilot phase of this programme. The grants are expected to be extended to similar households in other districts of the country by the end of 2011, with the main objective being to keep these children in school by catering for their school fees, uniforms, health care and other basic needs.

Finance Minister Timothy Thahane announced the quarterly grants when presenting the 2009/10 budget in February this year, saying they were part of government’s intervention strategies aimed at militating against the ravages of the AIDS pandemic.

Lesotho has the third-highest HIV prevalence in the world, with an estimated 23.2 percent of the country’s population of 1.8 million being infected. In 2007, UNICEF estimated that Lesotho had 160,00 orphans of which 110,000 had lost one or both parents to AIDS.

The government of Lesotho has since embarked on various child support services in partnership with such donor agencies as the European Commission, which announced it would provide 16 million dollar package over five years through UNICEF, covering such areas as access to education, health, psychosocial support, protection, HIV prevention and food security.

On Apr. 22, government was supposed to hand over the first batch of cash grants at Mathula in Mafeteng but deferred the disbursement for security reasons following a foiled attempt on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s life on the same day. But there was a handover of 12 vehicles and office equipment by the European Union Ambassador to Lesotho, Peter Beck Christiansen, with the cash grants to follow at a date yet to be announced.

The Lesotho Child Grants Programme is an initiative of the government to provide money to supplement the income of poor households caring for orphans and other vulnerable children and child-headed households. A Village Verification Committee is formed in each community and supports government in identifying the poorest and most vulnerable households with children, in their communities.

For this pilot project being implemented in Mathula (Mafeteng District), Semonkong (Maseru District), and Thaba Khubelu (Qacha’s Nek District), the next cash payments will be disbursed in July, with further payments in October and January next year.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Christiansen said without a shift in the sexual behaviour of Basotho men, the nation is in grave danger.

"We discovered that all aspects of fighting HIV/AIDS had been done, but the biggest gap was to mitigate the effects on the innocent orphans and other vulnerable children, who are paying the price and society’s lack of understanding of how to fight the disease individually and as a group," he said.

"May the adults of Lesotho have the energy, desire and will to change their behavior to avoid adding more orphans to the communities. Multiple concurrent sexual relations seem still to be the norm and not the exception, and the only real protection – condoms – are still being used far too little both inside and outside marriages. If everyone does not say enough is enough, the Basotho nation may not be here in 20-30 years and certainly living conditions will only deteriorate."

Christiansen added that the Health and Social Welfare Minister should appeal to cabinet for the speedy enactment of the Child Protection and Welfare Bill, for the protection of the country’s youngest citizens. He also implored government to ensure children get the necessary attention and proper representation in national programmes dealing with such vulnerable children.

UNICEF representative in Lesotho,Aichatou Diawara-Flambert, said their major concern was ensuring children – especially the vulnerable ones – are never denied their basic needs.

"Evidence from other cash-transfer initiatives around the world indicate that the additional income provided through cash grants is used for health, nutrition and education. The benefits enjoyed by the direct recipients are often shared by other household members across generations. Apart from that, cash transfers do not replace other forms of assistance but complement other mechanisms supporting the needy," said Diawara-Flambert.

Sengoe Monyetsane, speaking on behalf of the Mathula Community, Thaba Tsoeu constituency, expressed gratitude to the European Commission and UNICEF for supporting OVC.

"We are very pleased that Mathula is among centres to pilot this programme, and we promise the money shall be used profitably for the benefit of these children," he said.

The Matsieng Principal Chief, Mr Masupha Bereng Seeiso also thanked the donors for their support. He advised Basotho to change their behavior in an effort to minimize the escalating rate of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS.

Mrs Moliehi Khabele, MOHSW deputy Principal Secretary, said government had developed intervention strategies in treatment, prevention and mitigation through the Social Welfare Department by launching a national action plan – OVC, Policy and Strategic Planning 2004.

"These documents were shared with our development partners so that they could buy-in and identify how they could support their implementation. I am pleased to say the European Commission and Global Fund were among the first partners," she added.

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