Vulnerable and alone

Child-headed households are fuelling school dropouts, social experts say.

19 July 2019 | Social Issues

After an initial projection in 2008 that there would be 250 000 orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 15 by 2021, President Hage Geingob announced during his State of the Nation Address in 2018 that the government had 344 000 of these children on its books.

With an estimated 344 000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) across the country, increasing numbers of pupils from child-headed households are dropping out of school.

According to social activist Rosa Namises there appears to be very little political will to address the issue.

“Government is doing very little; the only thing they are doing is to take children to the Namibia Children's Home or to SOS Children's Village, but these are only temporary solutions,” she says.

Although she commends the new Children's Act, which has reviewed adoption procedures and makes provision for kinship care, she says people's attitudes are a problem.

Kinship care is the care provided by relatives or a member of a child's social network when a child cannot live with his or her parents.

Namises believes Ubuntu has died and people are no longer willing to take care of other people's children, let alone troubled children.

According to the executive director in the ministry of education, arts and culture, Sanet Steenkamp, child-headed households remain a huge challenge. She emphasises that not all vulnerable children are receiving social grants, and that orphans often have to fend for themselves.

She says more and younger children are taking up the responsibilities of adults in caring for their siblings.

“Just the other day at a United Nations Partnership Framework the issue of child-headed households came up. You have various factors that contribute,” Steenkamp says.

According to her this is driven by many factors, including migration, where parents leave their children behind to find jobs elsewhere.

Another factor is HIV/Aids.

“Many years ago, the HIV rate was very prevalent. It has increased again in Namibia, and we see more and more adolescents becoming HIV positive. That is another matter of concern, but we have done a formal study about child-headed households,” she said.

The principal of Dr Frans Indongo Primary School, Job Shipanga, told Namibian Sun yesterday that teachers often spend more time persuading children not to drop out of school than actually teaching.

“Some of the parents have passed on so the children drop out of school. We encourage them to return to school. This is a problem because the time a teacher is spending with them at home, the other children at school are left out,” he said.

The majority of these children live in informal settlements, he added.

The Khomas Region education director, Gerard Vries, says there is a perception that better education is available in urban areas and the older siblings are often sent to the city to take care of their younger siblings while the parents remain in the village or smaller towns. “Now this impacts what happens in school, because there must be oversight with what happens with homework. So it is a serious challenge,” he says. During the recent #BeFree outreach to the Osire refugee camp one of the key issues raised was the issue of child-headed households created by children fleeing their home countries without their parents or losing them along the way.

According to Dr Veronica Theron, child protection expert and an aide in the Office of the First Lady, the issue needs to be addressed urgently.

She points out that the issue is picked up on an ad hoc basis, which makes it difficult for people to determine the true magnitude of the problem.

“It is a recurring issue in most of the regions,” she says.

She adds that in the northern parts of the country the biggest factor is HIV/Aids.


According to a report titled 'A Namibia Fit For Children – 25 Years of Progress' more children in rural areas than in urban areas are orphans, with the highest percentages recorded in the Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshana regions, where approximately 20% of children were orphaned.

According to this report, 48.6% of Namibian children live in overcrowded conditions where they have to compete for resources such as school uniforms.

The report also highlights that 7 500 children aged six to 12 years in rural areas (6.5%) and 44 090 children in towns (20%) are deprived of education, housing, sanitation, caretakers or electricity.

The result is that school uniforms and shoes are not priorities in child-headed households where children barely have enough to eat or a place to stay.

In 2008, during Nangolo Mbumba's tenure as education minister, the Education Sector Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children was launched.

It was revealed at time that since 2004, the ministry of gender equality and child welfare had registered 142 777 orphans and vulnerable children and that this number was increasing. It was projected that by 2021, Namibia will have approximately 250 000 OVC under the age of 15 and therefore the situation must not be taken lightly.

During his 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA) President Hage Geingob said the number of orphans and vulnerable children receiving grants had increased from 285 431 in the 2016/17 financial year to 344 055 in the 2017/18 financial year.

In 2001 the census recorded 97 000 OVCs and four years later, in 2005, the ministry of education recorded 142 777 OVCs.


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