Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (46)

Seymour Crawford


31 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recently published UNICEF report, Growing up Alone, on the plight of children orphaned and made vulnerable in sub-Saharan Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4241/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I congratulate UNICEF-Ireland on its recently published report, Growing up Alone: children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The report highlights one of the most troubling consequences of the HIV pandemic, namely its impact on children. It calls for the rights of children orphaned and made vulnerable by the disease to be protected. It also urges that the families and communities of these children have the capacity to care for them.

Even though HIV-AIDS is a global phenomenon, no other region has been worse affected than sub-Saharan Africa. Over 11 million children under 15 years of age, orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, live in the region. This figure is expected to rise to 20 million by 2010. The huge number of children who have lost one or both of their parents is a severe strain on wider family members, particularly grandparents. African families have demonstrated extraordinary resilience under the impact of the epidemic, but they are now at breaking point. World Bank research suggests that the long-term social and economic impact of the epidemic will be devastating, largely because significant numbers of these children will not receive the care, education and attention they need.

The declaration of commitment, agreed at the UN General Assembly special session on HIV-AIDS in June 2001, paid special attention to children orphaned by HIV-AIDS. It set specific goals to address their plight. These goals emphasise the importance of developing and implementing national strategies to strengthen government, family and community capacities to respond to the crisis, ensuring non-discrimination and building international co-operation. Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that these commitments are not being met because the demands on governments and communities are so great.

HIV-AIDS is a key priority for Development Co-operation Ireland, the Government's official programme of development assistance. Ireland was one of the first donors to develop a comprehensive HIV-AIDS strategy in its development programme. We have promoted a more vigorous, focused and coherent approach to dealing with the HIV-AIDS crisis in the EU and through our participation in the executive boards of the UN's funds and programmes. Since 2001, the Government's financial allocations to the fight against AIDS have increased tenfold to €40 million in 2003.

UNICEF, which is leading the UN's response to the care and protection of children orphaned through HIV-AIDS, is one of Ireland's key partners in the UN system. In 2003, we contributed over €13 million to UNICEF. The executive director of UNICEF, Ms Carol Bellamy, will attend the Dublin conference on HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia on 23-24 February 2004. UNICEF will also hold the annual meeting of UNICEF national committees in Dublin in April 2004. This latter meeting will also focus on the issue of HIV-AIDS.

The programme countries in Africa which are supported by Development Co-operation Ireland, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, have very severe HIV-AIDS epidemics, as does South Africa, where we also have an intensive involvement. In each case, our efforts are targeted at strengthening Government capacity to respond to the disease and at supporting district and NGO responses at local and community levels. In many cases, funding is focused on support for orphans, including ensuring access to education, provision of food and clothing and psycho-social care. Support for orphans is also part of our regional HIV-AIDS programme in southern and eastern Africa.

The Government will continue to fight HIV-AIDS through its support for prevention, care, including the care of orphans, and treatment programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. We will also continue to press for a strong international response to an epidemic which is undermining all development gains in the world's poorest countries.