This paper reports research concerning junior-headed households among Oshiwambo speakers in north-central Namibia. Based on field interviews with randomly sampled junior heads of households and selected key informants, we outline some features common to the junior-headed households and the ways in which they attempt to manage their lives. The concepts of child- and junior-headed households are also clarified. We argue that due to a significant increase in the number of orphans in Namibia, the ability of extended families to absorb and care for orphaned children is beginning to fail. Although child-headed households are still rare in Namibia, junior-headed households — those led by young persons aged 18 years or more and who are unmarried and have not established a household of their own — appear to be more common. The paper poses the question, do junior-headed households represent a coping strategy in a situation where the upper limits of the ability of extended families to absorb and provide care for orphans has been reached? The ability of junior heads of households to run their households and care for younger children is limited by lack of experience, unemployment, and poverty. The primary function of these juniors appears to be maintaining order and providing basic security against abuse and the grabbing of property. By and large, such households are dependent on handouts from neighbours, relatives and the church, for food, clothing and financial support. We propose that efforts be made to secure access to education for junior heads of households, and to develop ways of improving their knowledge and skills regarding both household management and income-generating activities.
Keywords: child-headed households, coping, extended families, HIV/AIDS, Oshiwambo, socio-economic aspects, southern Africa
African Journal of AIDS Research 2008, 7(1): 123–132