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SOS Children in Maseru Lesotho
SOS Children's Villages has had a village in Maseru since 2003, and a second in Quithing is under construction. SOS Children's Villages also has projects supporting more than a thousand AIDS affected children and their families, providing voluntary counselling and testing and where appropriate anti-retroviral drugs. … more about our charity work in Lesotho

Child poverty threatens Lesotho’s future

A sick economy, Aids pandemic and crippling poverty leaves little hope for Lesotho’s children, one in four of whom are orphaned.

The small, landlocked, southern African kingdom has become one of the worst places in the world to be a child.

In the country of 1.8 million, 500,000 out of 825,000 boys and girls live on less than 70p a day and without proper shelter, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Almost 40 per cent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition and are stunted. And the number of babies and under-five year olds dying has in the past 10 years risen steadily.

And because a quarter of children are orphaned, hundreds of thousands of them are forced to look after their younger brothers and sisters, giving up their education or being forced to beg.

Seventeen year-old orphan Moliehi* gets up at dawn every day, feeds and sends her two younger brothers, 9 and 15, to school. They live in a one-room shack, hammered together from corrugated tin. At night, they squeeze onto a battered single mattress.

"I miss my mother,” said Moliehi. “Playing her role is a burden,” she told Inter Press Service news. “My brothers look at me to provide, but we have nothing. I usually go door to door to beg for a cup of maize meal or some oil."  But most people around her are equally poverty-stricken.

"People just aspire to the most basic needs, like food, shelter and clothing,” said child welfare officer Lineo Lephoto. "But they can’t even meet those any longer. Some only eat every second day."

To make things worse, the country, about the same size as Belgium, is one of the three countries in the world worst hit by HIV/Aids. Every fourth person is infected, which is what has left a quarter of children orphaned.

"Lesotho has one of the highest proportions of orphans in the world," says Dr. Ahmed Magan from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). "The situation is drastic. "If we don’t manage to reduce poverty in the next five years, we will see a major decrease in children’s survival and development," warns Magan.

With backing from the European Union, in 2008, Unicef launched a grant scheme for Lesotho’s orphans and vulnerable children. It is run by Lesotho’s child welfare department and reaches 28,000 children in five of the country’s 10 districts.

By 2014, the funding will dry out and from 2015 onwards Lesotho's government is expected to finance the scheme itself. How this poverty-stricken country will be able to foot the bill remains to be seen.

*Not her real name

Hayley attribution