Abandoned: The Plight of SA orphans

In addressing gender based violence (GBV), preventative as well as reparative measures must be developed. Effective preventative strategies, moreover, must take into account the factors which often facilitate and/or exacerbate the occurrence of GBV.

Faradiba Morton is one South African who has much to say about the factors which cultivate contexts of exploitation and abuse. A poet and activist as well as Khulumani Support Group’s Finance Administrator and the Chair of Max Goodman Park, Faradiba is passionate about the abandonment of orphaned South Africans to nightmarish circumstances, in which drug dealers, sex traffickers, and poverty peddle destruction.

Faradiba speaks of a whole sector of South African society deemed disposable and left with every odd stacked against them – a sector of often bright, ambitious young people with untapped potential.

“Do we stop caring about people after 18?” Faradiba asks me. That, in fact, is the problem: at age 18, South Africa’s estimated 5.3 million orphans will be forced out of orphanages – and, often, into the street.

Faradiba explains the inherent vulnerability of being an orphan. Without family to support, invest in, and look out for them, orphans have few prospects after leaving children’s homes. At 18, many young people are applying for university, but those without parents rarely have the money to do so. The lack of access to educational opportunities creates a vicious cycle: unskilled, alone, and poor, orphans struggle to find work and change their situation. Unable to afford shelter or hygiene products, these abandoned young people often end up unwashed and dirty – again decreasing the likelihood of finding work and acceptance. Left in this bleak situation, orphans are particularly vulnerable to predators – most notably, drug dealers and sex traffickers. A downward spiral is set in motion which is devastatingly hard to reverse.

Faradiba speaks with frustration about the attitudes which aid this downward spiral. The truth, she points out, is that society doesn’t care. Drug use amongst 18-plus orphans is open in Goud Street, central Johannesburg, for example. Faradiba tells me that police drive past Goud Street regularly and witness the drug use taking place. Yet no action is taken to combat this problem because the orphans are simply not a priority. They are left to degradation and abuse.

Faradiba notes that malnutrition and HIV are additionally highly prevalent amongst orphans living on the street.

While occasional interventions are staged by government, the streets remain full. Faradiba believes this is not just due to a lack of capacity, but a lack of concern. She also points out that after 18, orphans are not monitored and data is not gathered on them – there are no statistics describing the situation of orphans after they leave children’s homes. Many simply disappear, because there is no concern about their whereabouts. Given the lack of data on 18-plus orphans, how can relevant programmes be developed to meet their needs?

The lack of monitoring and data is not the only flaw in the system which is letting down young people from children’s homes. There is a lack of protection for children exposed to sexual and other abuse. Faradiba describes one young girl, placed in an orphanage after being taken away from a sexually abusive background. When the girl overheard plans to send her back to her parents, she was panicked and distraught. Despite her anguish, she was sent back into the abusive home. Faradiba has never been able to discover the current situation of this child, but such painful betrayal by the system can hardly lead to positive outcomes.

While the situation is improving in some areas, Faradiba contends there is still a huge gap in the system when it comes to protecting orphaned and exploited children.

Already dismissed as children, as adults most of these young people often have no choice but to resort to prostitution and crime. Once they have a criminal record, their lack of options for survival becomes even more entrenched.

Trapped in hostile circumstances, women, girls and boys are left fully exposed to GBV. Other forms of violence and abuse also stalk them. In taking stock of this horrific situation, how can we respond?

Faradiba states that the provision of more adult shelters is one step that could make a huge difference. In addition, funding needs to be allocated to the provision of educational opportunities for orphaned and exploited children.

Easiest and most simple of all, orphans need to know South Africa cares about them. These children, with so many “impossible” dreams, are often deeply and profoundly lonely. So, urges Faradiba, as a member of the South African family, make an effort to visit and spend time with our nation’s abandoned children. It is a more powerful gesture than most would imagine…

One of the initiatives that Khulumani Support Group is implementing, the setting up of Drop-In Centres where young people living on (connected to) the streets, can access a meal, a laundry, adult support and access to IT skills training. One such centre is Bethel Haven in Clocolan in Setsoto Municipality in the Free State where the senior social worker from the region, Ms Brenda Olivier from the Bethlehem office of the Provincial Department of Social Development, has participated in planning meetings to assist the board of Bethel Haven in establishing the Drop-In Centre while processes are underway for support from the IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) to support the installation of a Khulumani Community Knowledge and technology Centre.

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