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Some 7,000 children in Guyana have been orphaned and have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS.

This is according to Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy who noted that this figure has been steadily increasing as more adults die of AIDS.

The Health Minister noted that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has become one of the major threats in increasing the vulnerability of children locally.

Throughout the world, an estimated 143 million children are orphaned. In Guyana , the number is estimated to be 33,000.

These children have lost their parents due to illnesses, violence, suicide, accidents and many other reasons.

Without the love and support of a surviving parent or surrogate caregivers, these children often become more vulnerable to all forms of violence, neglect, discrimination, exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

The Minister pointed out that the loss of a loving parent for children with AIDS often implies rejection by their extended families and communities because of the stigma that surrounds the disease.

Children and adolescents who are orphaned ,whether by the HIV/AIDS epidemic or other causes are generally from families who have experienced the consequences of poverty, lack of access to services, discrimination and family disruption.

These children are most often cared for solely by their mother, and sometimes with or without the assistance of other family members such as a grandmother.

The loss of one or both parents is one of the single most devastating factors that contribute significantly to children falling into the category of being vulnerable.

The Minister said that the death of a parent means that children are often left without the same level of care. For many children this translates into being deprived of individualized love, affection, attention and care.

Other experiences for children include psychological trauma often not acknowledged and dealt with, dropping out of school or attending school inconsistently, suicide, increased physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse and child labour.

“Around the world, there are children who lose their parents, either permanently or temporarily, children who experience natural and man made disasters as well as pandemics and various forms of abuse.

“This is no different for Guyanese children, the factors that put our children at risk of being orphaned are basically the same and create the same needs and challenges,” the Minister said.

He also pointed out that the social and economic factors contributing to children in Guyana becoming orphaned have been cause for major concern.

Increasingly, children suffer in various ways ; some from abuse while others are exposed to various forms of violence, are neglected or abandoned, and also have to face the challenge of them or their parents dealing with life-threatening diseases such as cancer and HIV.

These situations are magnified even more, due to the high rate of poverty that exists in Guyana and the fact that children who try to find places or persons to assist in meeting their needs are often met with several barriers, chief of which is the inadequacies of the services to fully support or assist them.

After Haiti , Guyana has the second highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and AIDS is now considered the second leading cause of death in Guyana .

Therefore children with the disease, or who have parents with the disease will not only have to deal with the complications of this pandemic, but also the likelihood of becoming orphaned at an early age.

This means that more and more children will be forced to take on the considerable responsibility of supporting their family.

The Minister posited that the challenges of these vulnerable children are great and the emotional pain created by their circumstances needs urgent attention.

He noted that organizations are unable to deal with the challenges faced and so their capacity needs to be built in order to respond effectively.

On their own, many families are also incapable of effectively meeting the needs of these children and if there is going to be a change in the pattern, an urgent response is needed.

No one agency is sufficient to make this response, so an integrated and collaborated approach must be adopted if success is to be achieved, Minister Ramsammy stressed.

Kaieteur News