Nagaland affirms need to empower AIDS orphans

Our Correspondent
Kohima | May 7 

Parliamentary Secretary for Social Welfare & Women Development Chotisuh Sazo today said the world can help children orphaned by AIDS, to grow up healthy and in safety through adequate funding. 

Speaking at the World AIDS Orphans Day here, Sazo said the challenges presented by the AIDS-orphans crisis can be met through support to families and communities that serve as safety nets for the orphans. Likewise, he said, through access to education, health and nutrition for orphans and children affected by AIDS.

Efforts should be made to ensure opening work  training and livelihood supports to give young people the skills to enter the workforce and to become productive members of their community, he said. Sazo stressed on the need to have social protection laws that promote and enforce inheritance, adding that other legal rights for orphans must be in place

The parliamentary secretary also emphasized on the need to provide treatment for HIV positive children with special consideration for the physical, psychological, and social needs of a child living with HIV. There are at least an estimated 15 million children worldwide who have lost one or both parents to the disease, he said. There are many other vulnerable children, orphaned or homeless as a result of diseases, poverty, war or natural disasters, he said. Neither Nagaland state nor India has any documented data on children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS as of today, he said. ‘However, this does not mean that we do not have orphans and vulnerable children and in fact the number may be growing’, Sazo said. He urged the department in concern to make an assessment to   help the state towards bringing out a strategy for  orphans and vulnerable children.

On the state’s side, Sazo said the government is trying its best to tackle HIV and AIDS related problems and also creating awareness among legislators, government officers and community members. The Women Development department is providing nutritional support to women living with HIV/AIDS including children, while scholarships are being granted to the effected and infected children; alongside these, he said vocational training programmes to women living with HIV/AIDS are being extended. Through funding from the Catholic Relief Foundation, the Nagaland Development Organization is further providing educational support to 120 OVCs in Dimapur. However, there is a need to expand and increase these services, he added.

Sazo said that a majority of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS are living with a surviving parent, or within their extended family, while some orphans with no support are living in the streets or in residential institutes. Although, he said, most children live with a caretaker, they face a number of challenges, including finding money for school fees, food and clothing.

“Effective responses must strengthen the capacity of families and communities to continue providing care, protect the children and to assist them in meeting their needs,” he said. Localized efforts, initiated by Faith-based groups and civil society organizations to address the need of children will contribute a lot towards children made vulnerable by AIDS, Sazo advised.

“HIV and AIDS have impacted our state to a great extent not only because the most productive population are being decimated, but also because the future of our children is at risk,” he said. In addition to the trauma of losing a parent, he said, AIDS orphans living with extended families or in foster care are often subject to discrimination and are less likely to receive healthcare, education and other needed services. “We should no longer be complacent but rise to the situation and address this increasing problem,” he added.  Sazo also announced the adoption of the state’s AIDS policy and called upon the people to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Nagaland State AIDS Control Society project director Dr. Neiphi Kire while speaking on the significance of the day said there are 19,000 people living with HIV/AIDS thus child orphans through the disease is likely to increase. 

He made a particular mention of children below 18 months; there are no testing facilities and 50% of the children will not see their 2nd birthday, Dr. Kire said. He stressed on the need to come up with community care centers for AIDS-affected children.

Also, Naga Mother’s Association president Khesheli said stigma and discrimination should not hamper ‘our spirit and should not be-little ourselves as we are the children of God’. She encouraged the orphans by saying “we are with you and be always with you and together we seek and shape your future”. She has appealed to the school children to tell their parents that it is a responsibility to look after suffering fellowmen. Quoting the scripture James 1:27, she assure the orphans that ‘you are never alone’.

Chief Electoral Officer, Nagaland, CJ Ponraj also said the current trend is a very serious situation and that resources have to be pooled and surveys undertaken to identify and understand the seriousness of the problem and deal with it.