When parents die of HIV – what happens to the children?
We have had a number of children brought to us by relatives and friends.
“Please take this child and put them in an orphanage” is the request. “We cannot care for the child – take him or her to a place where the child will get food and clothing and education.”
Last week a 16 year old boy was brought to Jeevan Sahara Kendra. He has HIV. His parents have died.
He is not physically ill – but the relatives asked us to put him in an orphanage or ashram.
We told the relatives that we could not – and would not.
Our colleagues in other organisations who do run orphanages are over-burdened with the number of children they are looking after. They are under-staffed. And most are already working to get their wards out on their feet by the time they turn 18 – so no one would take a 16 year old boy in the first place.
We also feel strongly that God has placed family first to look after orphans. In India we are blessed with big families. To have a child looked after by an uncle or aunt, or distant cousin – whatever – is always better than being looked after by strangers. Children and young people crave identity. They need roots and histories that they can make their own. Just ask a person who has grown up in an orphanage ‘where are you from’ – and see the often painful search for words to express their identity.
Most of all, children need love. Clear affection. Models of what parents do. Real family situations to grow into later in life.
Jeevan Sahara is committed to helping people help their orphaned relatives – by exploring ways of supporting their care at home. By seeing what kinds of fostering arrangements (esp. with relatives) can be made. By meeting regularly with children and adolescents infected and affected with HIV.
There are no easy ways out – but sending a child to a lifetime of institutional care – should be only done in the last resort.
The relatives of the 16 year old boy were disappointed with our response to them. We hope to keep engaging them in the coming weeks and months – and trust that this 16 year old will live out a fulfilled adulthood too!