This paper characterises children orphaned by AIDS in the Couffo region of Benin. A 2006 census conducted for the research revealed a total of 315 such orphans, aged 0 to 14 years, within 88 households. Seventy-one percent of these children were under the care of their mothers or grandmothers, 68% were fatherless, 58% were between the ages of 7 and 12, and 68% were in primary school. An in-depth study of the orphans’ lives, undertaken to complement the census, revealed that these orphans were highly mobile between households, with almost 50% of them moving homes within a six-month period. An analysis of this phenomenon found that orphan mobility was a deliberate household strategy to manage orphanhood. Tensions arising out of care arrangements and resource allocation were among the main reasons for the high degree of orphan mobility. The context of orphan mobility also highlighted the practical role the orphans were able to fulfil within the affected households. The findings show that orphan mobility is a social phenomenon with two functions: on one hand, it may help HIV/AIDS-affected households to manage the increase in the number of orphans; on the other, it can provide an opportunity for orphans to move to a ‘safer’ environment anytime they do not feel secure. The implications for institutions providing care to orphans were also identified. Among other things, we recommend that a distinction be made between the main caregiver and the ‘endorser’ of an orphan as this was found to be an important difference. We also recommended that a distinction be made between orphans under and over the age of 10. For instance, children in the age group 10–14 years should be defined as ‘pre-adults,’ as their position within the household and their needs for services are different from those of orphans under age 10.
Keywords: care provision, census, children, household resources, resource allocation, rural communities, sociology, West Africa
African Journal of AIDS Research 2009, 8(3): 261–274