In the face of the burgeoning AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, there is widespread concern that responses to increasing numbers of orphans are resulting in a proliferation of orphanages across the region. This unease emanates from the view that care for children - orphaned or otherwise - in a home and community environment is ideal. Institutions, on the other hand, are noted to impact negatively on children, to operate as "magnets" for children growing up in poverty-stricken environments, and to be disproportionately costly. Arguing that residential care violates the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the international child welfare sector is united in advocating its use as only a temporary "last resort" for children. The position is shared by the South African government and other key players in the local child welfare sector. Two important policy processes that are underway aim (in part) to limit, transform and regulate residential care for children. Globally, a range of international agencies are spearheading a campaign for international standards for "children without parental care". In South Africa, the primary piece of children's legislation - which includes all provisions for residential care - is under review, and soon to be replaced by a new Children's Act. However these policy processes are occurring amidst a dearth of systematic empirical evidence about the phenomenon of residential care in sub-Saharan Africa in general, and in South Africa more specifically. We have little more than an anecdotal picture of how the sector manifests in practice on the ground. In particular, little is known about less formal residential care provisioning, about residential care settings that do not conform neatly in their origins, form or function to conventional institutions and which tend not to be registered with the State as required by law. It is within this context of inadequate description and analysis of the phenomenon of residential care - particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS - that this study aims to contribute to policy. It sets out to advance understanding of the complex patterning of residential care in South Africa, as well as how it relates to national policy and law and to international child welfare policy on the issue.
University of Cape Town Children's Institute
University of Pretoria, Centre for the Study of AIDS
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