Friday, 31 July 2015 09:37

NAMIBIA: Robbed of Their Childhood

30 July 2015 – Opinion piece
His 13-year-old eyes look tired as he stands under a tree waiting for our appointment. Wearing worn-out and torn grey trousers and a blue shirt, being barefoot, the boy nervously fumbles with a plastic tag between his fingers.

Life has been difficult for *Jonny Haingura, a Grade 5 pupil at Ndama Primary School, who takes care of his HIV-positive mother in a small corrugated shack they call home in Ndama, one of Rundu's poorest informal settlements.

For a boy who walks around with a heavy burden that comes with playing the role of the adult at home, he manages to give us a shy smile.

"My mother went to the river to catch some fish," he tells us when we ask him where his sick mother was. He tells us that today, his mother, who has been bedridden for some months, had managed to get out of bed and was able to walk on her own. Her ARV treatment seemed to be working - for now.

During the months that his 27-year-old mother was gravely ill, Haingura became the man of the house - cooking, running errands, doing the laundry, fetching water and firewood, and taking his mother to the clinic when her condition worsened. This, he says, left him with very little time to play with peers or do his homework.

While other 13-year-olds play video games and soccer, Haingura's normal daily routine involves being the responsible adult.

"Sometimes I have to skip school because I have to take my mother to the clinic," the soft-spoken Haingura says. It is also his responsibility to make sure his mother takes her medicine at the same time every day.

"I learn how to be happy despite my situation," he says. He has no relationship with his father, he tells us. The last time he saw his father was a few weeks ago when his car broke down along the road. "He told me he did not have money to give me and that he was just driving by. He never comes home," he says.

Two of Haingura's friends were also forced into premature adulthood.

One of them, 13-year-old *Luke Kudumo takes care of his HIV-positive mother and two younger siblings. Unlike Haingura's mother, Kudumo's mother has taken a turn for the worse.

Then there is Grade four pupil *Ndeshi Ausiku (10) who lives with her ailing HIV-positive mother and two siblings, although her aunt sometimes visits and helps with the housework.

Haingura, Kudumo and Ausiku have been identified as children running child-headed households and are undergoing extensive counselling.

The three friends met during their weekly counselling sessions at the LifeLine/Childline Namibia and they have been inseparable since.

"Their similar situations have drawn them closer and they often confide in one another," says a social worker at the organisation who only identified himself as Daniel.

Daniel says he meets and counsels children like Haingura, Kudumo and Ausiku on a weekly basis, where he encourages them to be steadfast. "They need to be reminded that they are also children because they spend so much time taking up roles of adults," he says.

Despite national statistics painting a rosy picture in the fight against HIV in the country, Daniel says the scourge is still wreaking havoc among Rundu's poorest communities as it is the leading contributor to child-headed households in the region.

A social worker at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare regional office Mpho Gakibiruelwe says more than 19 650 vulnerable children in Kavango East and West are receiving social grants from government.

She said many children were left to run households and take care of siblings after their parents died, while others were abandoned by parents.

The recently passed Child Care and Protection Act, makes provision for child-headed households, by providing support and protection where there are no responsible adults to take care of the children.

* Not their real names

By Theresia Tjihenuna
Source: The Namibian (AllAfrica.com)

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