United Nations – The United Nations Children’s Fund said less than three per cent the children registered as orphans so far in the three West African countries worse hit by Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have had to be placed outside family or community care.
UNICEF in a statement issued by the Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Mr. Manuel Fontaine in New York, says no fewer than 16,600 children have been registered as orphans in the affected countries, having lost one or both parents, or primary care-givers to the dreaded Ebola disease.
“Since overcoming their initial fears and misconceptions about Ebola virus, families have been showing incredible support, providing care and protection for children whose parents have died.
“This shows the strength of kinship ties and the extraordinary resilience of communities at a time of great hardship’’, added the statement.
UNICEF said as of mid-January, nearly 3,600 children had lost both parents to Ebola virus in the three countries, while 16,600 were registered as having lost one or both parents.
It stated that the disease also affected primary care-givers, pointing out that UNICEF was helping to identify children without parents or caregivers with the view to providing immediate care and protection to them.
The UNICEF statement said the assistance would either be through extended family members, community members or foster families.
In Guinea, for example, UNICEF said all 773 children who lost both parents have been placed with their extended families.
It added that children and the families looking after them were regularly given cash and material assistance.
Fontaine said UNICEF had helped in accessing schools for them and providing counseling to support their emotional and psychological well-being.
The UNICEF said following up children who were in new families was an important focus as they remained emotionally vulnerable.
It added that unaccompanied children who may have come into physical contact with a person suffering from Ebola were provided with centre-based care while under observation for 21 days maximum incubation period.
Across the three countries, UNICEF said the total number of such children to date had been just over 250.
Out of this, it said over 90 per cent of them were taken into the care of extended family members shortly after the quarantine period.
It added that UNICEF had also developed a network of Ebola survivors who have been playing an important role in supporting affected children.
It said because they had built up a level of resistance to the disease, survivors can interact with children who were under observation.
UNICEF added that identifying vulnerable children and providing services to them had been one of the many challenges faced in responding to the Ebola crisis.
It quoted Fontaine as saying: “as the Ebola-affected countries head towards recovery, we should take the opportunity to improve child protection services for all vulnerable children.
“We have a chance to address other forms of vulnerability that existed before the Ebola crisis, such as child marriage, child labour, sexual violence and exploitation.”(NAN)