She lowered her head, her eyes met the ground, “hinguguay beliuwa ilomni”. “They told me the hinguguay ate her”, she said with finality in her young voice. She was barely 4 years old. The hinguguay is a mystical creature. When kids are bad, parents threaten that the hinguguay will come eat them. In the case of this story I am about to share, the hinguguay has eaten an entire generation.
This project examines the implications of HIV/AIDS from the perspective of the living, of those left behind and too young to fend for themselves.
Under 18 year olds accounts for over 50% of the total population in Ethiopia. I wondered why it was the case that children as young as three or four were either cared for by ailing grandmothers or lived with older siblings, that an entire generation seemed to have dissolved away. The answer was always that they were very ill and died …
HIV/AIDS is the number one cause of parental death in Ethiopia and continues to leave more than 16 million children a year worldwide, orphaned. It is estimated that 10 in every 1000 households are headed by children. These are children who watched their parents die long and agonizing deaths; who witnessed the family disintegrate before their eyes; who watched the household food security wither away; who watched the tiny income disappear; who pleaded for medicines for their mothers and can’t get them; who were forced to leave school; who felt terrified and abandoned when death claimed its victims, and now have to face the stigma that beholds them.
They end up in the streets and are often exploited or taken advantage of, hence the trust in the society that is supposed to protect them. Economic hardships lead them to look for means of subsistence that increase their vulnerability to HIV infection, substance abuse, child labour and delinquency. Most survive on mouldy and rotten leftover food. Many girls become victims of rape and boys a part of gangs. Children in child-headed households remain legally excluded from healthcare, education and other support systems because in most cases the presence of an adult in a household is required to allow legal claim of services. Kisanet, only 15 years old, was thrown in jail for being unable to repay the debt that her father had incurred for his own treatment before he died. She spent two weeks in jail before being released. Now debtors are on her tail. This is only one story, but a common one.
Orphans of war can tell their story over and over. Children orphaned by AIDS cry, mostly silently behind closed doors. Efforts of AIDS prevention and treatment are evident. However, these do not mean that the issue of child-headed households will vanish.
Every 14 second, a child-headed household is being formed in the world!
© liz loh-taylor