The most precious gift on earth is life. But some say life can look incomplete without a child. Children are utmost source of pleasure and love in the family. At birth, children come with a lot of joy to families and communities. They are also one of the best yardsticks for measuring the social development levels of nations. For example development or lack of it is usually looked at in terms of infant mortality and child mortality rates, among others.

Infant mortally means children dying before their first birthday, while child mortality refers to children dying before they are five years of age. These are essential in understanding the welfare levels of a nation. Whereas Uganda has made remarkable gains in ensuring the children are protected from the major and common child illnesses like measles and polio, the child mortality levels are still high.

The current challenges of raising children in Uganda are intrinsically integrated in the overall forces affecting the global development trends, such as increasing human population which has impacted adversely on the ecological balance. These forces have impacted negatively on family values and survival strategies, and have increased the vulnerability of populations already severally affected by globalization.

Children n adwomen face the biggest survival challenges. Uganda, with a population of over 33 million, has a child population of about 26 million. About 60 percent of these children experience difficulties in accessing basic needs such as healthcare, good education clean water, a balanced diet and permanent shelter.

There is also an emerging catastrophe of orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs). Civil wars, poverty, mud slides, landslides, lightening, nodding diseases, HIV/AIDS and other diseases as well as social problems like family breakups are to blame for the many OVCs in our communities.

In Uganda, an orphan is a child below 18 years who has lost either or both parents, while a vulnerable child is one living in conditions that are more likely to cause damage or are causing damage to his or her survival and development. We define a “total orphan” as a child who has lost both biological parents while that one who has lost one biological parent is known as “half orphan”. In Uganda we ten to mean the “total orphan” whenever we talk of orphan.

The exact number of orphans in Uganda is not known, but estimates have put the number of orphans at about two million. These are children who have lost parents due to various illnesses and natural or man-made calamities, including war and accidents.

Sadly, parental deaths due to AIDS accounts for 45 percent of all orphaned children.

Where as it is very easy to ascertain the child who has lost a biological parent, it is very difficult to identify all children who are vulnerable to bad conditions. What is the yardstick? Who does the measurement? And how precise are the measurements, whether quantitatively or qualitatively done? Policy makers, development workers and research experts have contributed greatly in designing programmes and tools for reaching out to these desperate young people. But despite the numerous programmes and interventions in place, the problem of OVCs remains one of Uganda’s biggest social development constraints.

As development workers, we seem to be at crossroad s because of the increasing problem of orphans. Nursing, protecting and caring for orphans, and integrating them in welfare and development priorities at both local and national levels, biggest responsibility it is, will be focus of my next article. Watch this space. Healthy children for a wealthy Uganda.






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