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close this bookCall to Action for 'Children Left Behind' by AIDS: A plea for communities, governments, civil society, the private sector and international partners to vigorously address the plight of children who are affected by the AIDS epidemic (UNAIDS, 1999, 5 p.)
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Call to Action

This call is a plea for communities, governments, civil society, the private sector and international partners to vigorously address the plight of children who are affected by AIDS epidemic. Urgent action to meet their needs and ensure the realization of their rights is needed at three levels: family and community, government and global.

1. Family and community level

'Keep families and communities at the front line' by empowering and supporting them to care for orphans. Lessons from community initiatives over the past 15 years point to the following actions as essential:

· Foster active participation of the community, including people living with HIV or AIDS, in identifying and implementing actions to strengthen community-based care and support for orphans.

· Increase women's access to credit, income-generating activities and property, including land, because the burden of care tends to fall on poor women with few resources. In many cases, such action will require changing laws and policies regarding inheritance and property ownership.

· Establish widespread confidential counselling and voluntary testing for HIV. The benefits of such counselling include prevention of mother-to-child-transmission, promotion of the rights of girls and women to make informed decisions and realization of people's right to know their HIV status.

· Target social assistance to all families in need, not just those grappling with AIDS, as a way of ensuring equity and discouraging discrimination against orphans and others affected by AIDS.

· Reduce demands on the labour of girls and women: In many parts of Africa, for example, improving access to water and fuel for heating and cooking would free up more time for girls and women, allowing more girls to obtain a basic education, as is their right.

· Respond to the psychosocial needs of orphans through counselling services for children and families in need. School and home-based care and services should ensure in particular that children develop emotionally and intellectually through play and other activities and that they feel a sense of belonging to their communities.

· Encourage community leaders to protect the legal rights of children and women, especially those of widows and orphans. This will involve changing harmful practices and customary laws that are discriminatory or exploitative.

II. Government level

‘Break the conspiracy of silence’: The success of governments will be measured by their ability to prevent HIV and to enable families and communities to cope with the effects of the epidemic. Governments need to take action in three key areas:

Advocacy and social mobilization

· Actively combat discrimination. Raise the visibility of AIDS while combating the shame and stigma associated with the disease.

· Raise public awareness of the nature of the crisis and mobilize resources locally and internationally.

· Encourage the full participation of communities in all aspects of the response to AIDS. Ensure that people living with HIV or AIDS and those caring for them are involved at every step - including planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Priorities and reform

· Develop priority national policies in support of HIV prevention and mitigation of the impact of AIDS. Focus on protecting younger children and girls and on providing young people with effective education on HIV and AIDS and on related reproductive health issues. Encourage prevention programmes involving peer educators.

· Mobilize widespread support for the fight against AIDS and establish frameworks linking efforts of government, civil society, including religious organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and communities to use resources most efficiently.

· Ensure access to education, especially for girls, by introducing specific measures such as subsidies, scholarships and the provision of alternative avenues for high-quality education, such as community schools.

· Reform the education sector to respond better to the needs of orphans and their communities. The traditional approach to education needs to be overhauled to make schools more participatory and responsive to the everyday needs of students and more relevant to their lives. It is essential that schools help students acquire skills that can enable them to make informed decisions and avoid risks. Teacher training and support is pivotal to this effort.

· Reform the health sector to emphasize HIV prevention and the provision of quality health care services that can address the needs of children and communities affected by AIDS.

· Introduce and enforce laws that realize the rights of children and women, emphasizing social welfare and the best interests of the child. Focus on protection issues such as child abuse and rape, children in commercial sex work, exploitative child labour, juvenile justice, and children and women who lack secure tenure and are denied property ownership.

Monitoring and evaluation

· Identify, assess and document successful community-based initiatives with a view to expanding them into effective national or intercountry programmes.

· Monitor the impact of HIV and AIDS on children and families at all levels and use the information gathered to take targeted action.

· Equip communities to monitor the local impact of the epidemic, facilitate action and evaluate interventions.

III. Global level

‘Keep children orphaned by AIDS high on the global agenda’: Governments, donors, the private sector and international organizations have a moral obligation to act comprehensively and quickly in addressing the rights and needs of AIDS orphans. Their efforts can focus on these actions:

· Make AIDS central to development assistance, especially for the most affected countries in Africa. Ensure that resources are allocated in such a way that countries can do more than merely stave off increased poverty and the deterioration of social services.

· Make AIDS orphans a priority in plans to accelerate debt relief and also in sector-wide lending initiatives.

· Provide financial support for long-term human development projects.

· Promote and advocate for the rights of children and women as articulated in CRC and CEDAW.

· Encourage the development of resource networks to facilitate the sharing of human, technical and financial resources regionally and globally.