Plight of kids who have to fend for themselves

18 November 2018 - 00:00 By TANYA FARBER

The ghosts of apartheid's homelands policy are haunting the lives of tens of thousands of children left in the care of older siblings.
About 75% of child-headed households in SA are in the former homelands; many of these children find themselves without a parent at home because of issues like migrant labour.
"The Child Gauge 2018", an extensive report just published by the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town, busts the myth that most child-headed households are the result of children being orphaned through HIV/Aids.
Currently, 95% of children living in child-only households do have a living parent but that parent is not able to take care of them on a daily basis, with poverty being the main reason, the report says.
"The dominant narrative has tended to suggest that children in child-headed households are mainly orphans and that they have been orphaned by HIV," said researchers Katherine Hall from UCT and Zitha Mokoane from the University of Pretoria.
While it is true that many children were orphaned by HIV/Aids in the early years of the millennium, "this does not explain the phenomenon of child-headed households", they said.
Their statistics show that about 58,000 children are living in households in which everyone is younger than 18 - and almost half of these are typically young boys living alone. Poverty is both the underlying cause and the biggest challenge for these households.
"A comparison of access to social grants in child-headed and adult-headed households found that child-headed households were significantly less likely to receive income from grants," Hall said.
Income is not the only challenge. Children in these households struggle to "cope with school work and home maintenance". They are also exposed to "violence, abuse and exploitation", and have to deal with psychological pressures like "loneliness, fear, stress and grief".
While some receive remittance from parents working in urban areas, there is often a shortfall.
Personal stories gathered by researcher Thandazile Nxumalo for her master's degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal vary from case to case, but in all of them getting through school is very difficult.
Said one girl who looks after her sibling: "My mother is doing piece jobs in Durban and only comes at month-end or if there is an emergency. There is no-one at home - home chores are waiting for us. It is difficult to live alone. It disturbs my learning as sometimes I have to miss school to look after my young sister."
On her future dreams, she said: "I would like my children one day to have all the necessities and maybe have a helper so that they will only concentrate on learning. I have experienced an unsafe life as people steal, get into our house while [we are] sleeping and there is no-one to protect us. Our life is stressful."
Said another youngster who lives on his own: "I walk a very long distance to school. This makes me go to sleep early without looking at school work. Staying alone makes it difficult.
"There is no-one to give advice, appreciate, criticise and complain about my actions."
Venecia Barries, the director at Cape Town organisation The Parent Centre, which provides counselling and workshops on positive parenting, said parenting was not easy at the best of times.
"Positive parenting means that you love and respect your child; that you are able to provide a safe space with positive reinforcement, supervision and enough attention for your child to feel loved."
Teens who headed households consisting of younger siblings were "traversing a key developmental stage without the daily guidance of dependable adults".
That is challenging enough, said Barries, but "also having to 'be the adult' at the age of 15 or 16, with the task of raising siblings and trying just to meet their everyday survival needs, can be overwhelmingly taxing".
She said that many teens in this position lacked the parenting skills to deal with their siblings in a constructive way. For such youngsters, "being able to focus on your own school work, spend time with friends and experience life as it unfolds is just a dream", she said.
Hall said the Isibindi ("courage") model of community-based support developed by the National Association of Child Care Workers was proving successful.
Isibindi organisations provide "practical and therapeutic services" to children in homes without adults.
Hall said they helped child-headed households to get access to grants and assisted with birth registration "if children do not yet have a birth certificate, as access to grants and some other services is impossible without this document".
Other services included helping with cooking and cleaning, budgeting, helping with homework, counselling, and referring children to more specialised services...

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