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Growing pains

HIV has swept through communities in South Africa, changing the shape of the family as mothers and fathers die from AIDS. The impact on children is dramatic, but too often those affected by AIDS and poverty become invisible to the wider community and the authorities. Chris de Bode set out to tell their story.

As parents die or move away from home to find work, grandparents have stepped in to take on the role of primary carer. But who cares for whom? Many grandparents are frail and in reality, it is often the children who assume family responsibilities. De Bode was with Lihle Mbele when she received news of the death of her mother Joyce. Aged 21, Lihle became head of the household, responsible for her two brothers, four cousins and an aunt who is too weak from AIDS and TB to look after her own children.

The South African government has committed to supporting early childhood development. Yet despite policies being in place, there is a shortage of nurseries and creches and many of the poorest families cannot afford to pay for the service. As child-headed households become more common, urgent support is needed to ensure that a whole generation does not lose the fundamental right to childhood. This project was produced with Panos London and supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation. An accompanying book by Anthony Swift and Stan Maher will be published in April 2009. Panos London promotes the participation of poor and marginalised people in national and international development debates through media and communication projects. To view a multimedia presentation of the project, visit Panos London.
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