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Aids orphans fight to survive

UGANDA. SINCE THEIR parents died of Aids a few years ago Shozi Fred, 11, and Nalutabi Jane, 13, have been managing on their own. Every morning they rise at 5am to tend crops near their mud hut home in Luwero, an hour's drive from the capital, Kampala, in rural Uganda.

They go to school when they can, but they cannot afford the lunch, and eat nothing all day. After school they gather greens which they eat with maize for their one meal of the day. Sometimes they are too tired to gather food and cook.

They desperately want to carry on going to school but they need to earn money - to pay for things such as paraffin for their sole lamp - by working in a neighbour's fields. For several days' labour, she pays them l,000 Ugandan shillings (about 50p), an exploitative wage even by Ugandan standards, where the average wage is less than Pounds 1 a day.

There are eight million Aids orphans in Africa - 1.7 million in Uganda alone. This new social phenomenon of households headed by children means many of them drop out of school - it is time-consuming and irrelevant.

Even worse is the plight of Aids orphans and others in cities such as Kampala, where they quickly become street children. With little or no change in sexual behaviour to halt the terrifying rise in Aids deaths, local aid workers believe 30 per cent of Ugandans are HIV positive.

In l994, in Uganda, only half of the eligible children were in school. Since l996 the government has guaranteed free education for all primary-aged children and enrolment has doubled. Older children have been given a second chance under a separate scheme.

More importantly, the concept of education is being broadened to give some of the world's most neglected children the life skills they need to deal with people they meet in the fields and on the streets.

The life skills programme emphasises survival skills covering health,nutrition and hygiene, and negotiating skills, rather than academic progress.

These are particularly valuable to adolescent Aids orphans for whom the risks of exploitative child labour, HIVAids and teen pregnancy are higher. Such children may have to make complex decisions without the support of parents, and resist unfair pressure from adults, who, for instance, suggest they spend the night with them.

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