Government neglect leads to millions of children affected by AIDS dropping out of school in southern and East Africa, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
The New York-based group said in a report released in Johannesburg that research in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa showed orphans were more likely to drop out of school as they were unable to afford an education without help from parents.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region worst affected by AIDS. Kenya and South Africa are among the countries worst hit by the epidemic, while Uganda is credited with reversing the spread of AIDS.
More than 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Human Rights Watch. Overall school enrolment rates have risen significantly in the three countries but AIDS orphans have benefited little, it said.
The group said it documented how children suffered effective discrimination in access to education once their family was afflicted by AIDS.
“Children leave school to perform household labor or (grieve) their parents’ death. Many cannot afford school fees because their parents are too sick to earn a living,” it said.
“While some countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, have abolished primary school fees, schools repeatedly refuse admission to AIDS-affected children who cannot afford to pay for books, uniforms and other school-related expenses.”
'Double victims of AIDS'
Human Rights Watch urged the governments of South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania to bolster community organizations and foster care to tackle the problems faced by children affected by AIDS.
“Governments bear the ultimate responsibility to protect children when their parents no longer can,” Jonathan Cohen, HIV/AIDS program researcher at Human Rights Watch, told a news conference in South Africa.
South Africa has a foster care system that aid agencies says is too weak to meet demand in an era of HIV and AIDS while Kenya and Uganda rely on charities to assist orphans.
Cohen told reporters that dropping out of school exposed orphans to a life of poverty and abuse, including sexual exploitation, hazardous labor and living on the streets.
“Some children are double victims of AIDS -- first they lose their parents, and then they face a high risk of HIV infection after they drop out of school. Governments must make education a priority to break this vicious cycle,” Cohen said.