BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Crossing Continents  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Crossing Continents Friday, 29 October, 1999, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Zambia's orphaned generation
The Nyanga family: when parents die, who will take care of the children?
By Olenka Frenkiel

Photographs by Mike Bailey

Latest programme
E-mail us

Lillian Nyanga sits on the step outside her tiny hut in the Zambian village of Ingangoola. Her husband, frail and emaciated, stands nearby. Both are sick with AIDS. Nestling close to her is her daughter, one of seven children. Her face mirrors her mother's, in her eyes a mixture of fear and bewilderment. Her elder brother, who must be 10 or 11, stands nearby.

Listen to the programme in full

Lillian Nyanga talks to presenter Olenka Frenkiel (right)
They both know that soon their mother and father will be dead and they will be orphans. Sickness has made Lillian weak and frustrated at her own helplessness. She no longer has the strength to walk, to feed and clothe her children, she explains. Worry furrows her brow and tears fill her eyes. "Where will they go? Who will care for them when we're dead?"

Bilon Wemba, who runs the village committee, tries to reassure her. "A family will be found. They'll be fed and clothed. They'll go to school." Perhaps. The committee, made up of just local villagers trying to cope, already has five hundred children on its books. It will do its best.

Just as likely, the children will wander off in search, perhaps, of a distant aunt in the city and join the new and growing army of street children now begging and sleeping rough in Zambia's cities.

AIDS has decimated Zambia's population. It's wiped out a generation of parents - 600,000 will die this year - and left almost a million orphans, more per head of the population than in any other country.

Some will find help from well-wishers. Catholic charites, the Salvation Army, UNICEF, a handful of NGOs will try to offer support for home-grown village committees like this one in Ingangoola.

Across Zambia, children are having to fend for themselves
But these projects are isolated, sporadic, piecemeal. For most of Zambia's orphans there is no safety net. Where once school and health-care were available to all, now there is nothing for those that cannot pay. Some villages have set up their own community schools for orphans.

The unemployed - those who still remember what they were taught at school - try to pass on their knowledge to children like Brenda. She's twelve. Since her parents died she's lived with her sister who now is sick with TB, a common illness of those with HIV.

Having survived so far, Brenda is now entering the most vulnerable period of her life. Three times as many teenage girls are infected with HIV as boys, and men of all ages are now seeking ever-younger partners to avoid infection. Brenda knows that education is her only lifeline, and writes poems to express her hopes.

No Government, it's often said here, has drunk as deeply at the well of the IMF and the World Bank as Zambia. Forced by its crippling debts to abandon the old- style welfare state set up by Zambia's former President Kenneth Kaunda, the Government now worships at the altar of structural readjustment, a strict monetarist approach which means it provides almost nothing for its orphans. The mantra is repeated - the extended family must provide.

This is 'care in the community' at its most farcical. Once their parents are dead, no-one is responsible for these children. No-one, it appears, has a duty to care for them, an obligation to deliver food or medicine. No-one will even know if they die.

At dawn on the Cairo Road in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, you can hear them coughing in the doorways. The nights are cold in October and in the darkness it's hard to distinguish one child from another. Like a litter of kittens or mice, they sleep on top of each other, a jumble of small bodies.

Life is hard for rural orphans - but harder still in Zambia's cities
They sleep in T-shirts. They have no blankets or warm clothes and as they wake they shiver, their voices rasping, their lips cracked as they face the reality of a new day. Zambians are the most courteous of people, even here, and as I ask them their names these children try to stand politely and explain.

"My name is Bonwin. My parents are died. My aunt told me I cannot stay with her. I must leave and find food for myself. I cannot go to the hospital. They turn me away. They think I am just begging for food." These children are dying.

Also in this edition of Crossing Continents: music from the country's once-rich Copper Belt, where a booming mining industry in the 1950s gave birth to songs of love, politics ... and hangovers.

Brenda, Zambia, October 1999
by Brenda, one of the orphaned generation
Kakonko, Isaac Matafwana & Sunkutu, (c) 1957
listen to Zambian music....
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Crossing Continents stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |