The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, is urging Kenya's politicians to put the issue of AIDS orphans at the center of their current election campaign. One in five Kenyan children has lost a parent to AIDS.
UNICEF is using television, radio and poster campaigns to pressure candidates in Kenya to do something for the country's 1.2 million AIDS orphans. That number is expected to double by the end of the decade.
The AIDS pandemic has devastated Kenya. Already, almost every Kenyan is either looking after an AIDS orphan or knows someone who is.
UNICEF Kenya representative Nicholas Alipui said politicians must formulate policies to deal with what he describes as a national crisis. "There is no choice, only an imperative," he said. "Parliamentary candidates must address this issue as a matter of urgency, and dedicate official time to their plight, once they are elected. To my mind, the issue of orphans in Kenya continues to be a national crisis. If crime and violence become their survival strategies, this will have serious implications for Kenyan lives and livelihoods."
The stigma surrounding AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it only worsens the suffering of these children, many of whom end up begging and sleeping on city streets. Many are traumatised by their parents' deaths, destitute, uneducated and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Kenya holds presidential, parliamentary and local elections on December 27. Mr. Alipui said it is up to Kenya's political leaders to bring these marginalized children back into society. "We need official support to stand behind these children, and break that stigma, which is one of the things that is causing psychological damage to these children," he said. "We need to find a way of taking those that are on drugs, sniffing glue, that you see on the streets, off the streets, de-intoxicate them, rehabilitate them, and make them go to school. This requires a social movement that must be led by politicians who claim that they want to lead the nation."
UNICEF's 'Call to Action' brochure is being distributed to all political candidates, emphasising the need for free education for AIDS orphans, and funding to support those caring for them. The brochure also calls for legislation outlawing the exploitation of orphans and discrimination against them, in particular the loss of their family property, which is a common problem.