- Over 60,000 orphans are to benefit directly from what the UN calls "a landmark partnership", sealed by the government of Lesotho, the European Commission (EC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). European grants thus are channelled towards one third of Lesotho's orphans, most having lost their parents to AIDS.
The government of Lesotho last week launched a programme, funded by the EC with a donation of over euro 11.3 million, to assist orphans and vulnerable children, mainly affected by the impact of HIV and AIDS. The Maseru Department of Social Welfare, of the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, the Ministry of Education and Training and UNICEF are to implement the programme.
"The grant comes at a time when the numbers of orphaned children in Lesotho are rapidly increasing and the impact of orphaning threatens children's overall development and the social fabric of entire communities," comments UNICEF's spokeswomen in Maseru, Clelia Barbadoro. Estimated at over 180,000 orphans in 2005 - of which 100,000 orphaned by AIDS - the numbers were said to "reflect a situation that calls for urgent and decisive action from all sectors of society."
Many of the children are dependent on elderly grandmothers or live in child-headed households, caring for younger siblings and forced to survive on their own - often making them a target to violence, abuse and exploitation.
By 2010, orphans are expected to account for more than 25 percent of all children in Lesotho - with four out of five estimated to be AIDS orphans – according to a report made by the UN in 2004. This, compounded by an HIV prevalence of 23.2 percent, the third highest in the world, has called for a massive pledge to scale-up national responses for vulnerable Basotho children, resulting in this new programme.
Through the programme, the neediest children are to be "helped to cope with the impact of losing their family members," Ms Barbadoro says. "Children will be provided with basic supplies, assisted to access and utilise essential services - health, education, protection, care and support - and acquire HIV prevention-related life skills and sufficient food and nutrition security," she adds.
"Effective responses are grounded in the strengths of communities and in their collaboration with service providers and policy makers," said Aichatou Diawara-Flambert, the UNICEF Lesotho Representative, in a statement. "UNICEF is thankful to the EC for their generous and commendable donation in support of the most important yet most vulnerable heritage, the orphaned and vulnerable children," she added.
Also Lesotho government representatives appreciated the EC and UN support. "This pioneering programme is critical to strengthen convergence of activities and provide a holistic approach to the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children," noted L Chisepo, Director of Lesotho's Department of Social Welfare. "Through our constant hard work and effective collaborative approach we have finally come to a tangible outcome that will improve the lives of thousand of needy children," Ms Chisepo added.
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