Childhood can be tough wherever you live but in Burundi nearly one fifth of all children up to the age of 14 are orphans, one of the highest rates in the world, mainly due to the Burundi civil war and AIDS. And this in what is already one of the poorest countries in the world with most of the population living in abject poverty and around a third of all children, even those with parent/carrs suffering from malnourishment. Of these 600,000 orphans just a few thousand live in official orphanages, the rest living on the streets or land, as head of child households with a small group of these children living with families other than their own.
Living outside an orphanage significantly reduces these children's willingness and ability to attend school or receive appropriate health care because officially they don't exist and if they don't exist no-one notices or even care if they disappear. The future for these orphans is equally bleak for they are unlikely to reintegrate into what is left of mainstream society as whilst some education in Burundi is free, books and uniforms are not and children fending for themselves simply do not have the resources to attend school in a country where there are already high levels of illiteracy and non school engagement.
Being an orphan also increases the likelihood of them having to engage in labour suited for adults only, and, of course, places them at risk of sexual and physical exploitation. A recent survey established that one in four of all children aged 5-14yrs were engaged in child labour. Even as recently as 2008 UNICEF were reporting that "Burundi's children continue to be threatened by rape, child prostitution, child labour, recruitment into militias, internal displacement, kidnapping and landmines." In Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi, there live 4,500 unaccompanied children, with 3,000 of them living rough on the streets. UNICEF carried out a survey of some of these children and found 93% of them showed clinical signs of behavioural problems. Many of these orphans go on to become 'former street children'; a term used once the child has reached adulthood where they may remain on the streets, often with addiction problems, unable to find work or establish normal relationships. Only early intervention, equipping these children with a warm and caring secure environment together with an education, can break this cycle and offer some hope for the future.
Info, facts and figures about
children in Burundi and the
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