An alarming number of children in Jamaica are made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. These children have been made vulnerable as a result of the death of their parents, family members and caregivers; living with HIV/AIDS and having responsibility to care for their parents and household members living with HIV/AIDS.
According to the Ministry of Health 2006 HIV/AIDS Epidemic Update, there were 1005 AIDS cases in the 0-19 age group. The Rapid Assessment of the Situation of Orphans & Other Children living in Households Affected by HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, 2002 also estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 children risk losing one or both parents to AIDS. HIV/AIDS has made 5,100 of our children orphaned (NAC, 2002). These children need our love, care and special services including emotional and social support to help them to cope. The evidence indicates that there is still discrimination against children in their homes, community, and other institutions. We need to intensify our public education programmes and encourage more role models to demonstrate their love and support for these children in private and public spaces so that we can reduce the level of stigma that alienate many of these children.
The Situation Analysis on Gender Disparities in Jamaica (UNICEF, 2007) also indicates that a reported 20 per cent of girls in Jamaica are forced into having sex. This has contributed significantly to the spread of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and has directly affected these children. Cultural practices and myths responsible for these practices need to be dispelled. Every effort must also be made to bring these perpetrators to justice.
The National Policy for HIV/AIDS Management in School states that no student or staff member with HIV/AIDS should be discriminated against neither directly or indirectly. While there are no sanctions in place for those who discriminate against these children, any speculation or gossip about children with HIV/AIDS must be discouraged.
The participation rights of these children are also compromised because of the stigma and fear they have which limits their ability to share their experiences and emotions. We must endeavour to create opportunities and spaces for these children to share in a non-judgmental and non-discriminatory atmosphere.
Civil society, especially those at the community level, is encouraged to work in collaboration with the government to effect these recommendations. Faith-based organisations are uniquely placed to promote non-discriminatory practices, reduce stigma and increase public educational programmes. In addition, they can help to provide support and a caring environment for such children. I urge them to encourage HIV testing in their Health Fairs.
Mary Clarke, Children's Advocate