- AIDS Cases: 400,000
- AIDS Orphans: 250,000
AIDS orphans in the Caribbean live dangerous lifestyles; they often resort to living on the streets, joining gangs, becoming prostitutes, or being unpaid domestic workers to make a living. Despite these terrible circumstances, the number of AIDS orphans is growing. There are about 250,000 AIDS orphans in the Caribbean, and 200,000 of them are in Haiti, where HIV prevalence was 1 percent in 2007- the highest in the world outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. Many AIDS orphans have AIDS themselves, which has a 25 percent chance of being passed through birth. 15 percent of all children are orphans, and while there are dozens of orphanages in every city, few will accept a child known to have AIDS. Even children whose parents have AIDS are shunned by some community and family members. In 2010, experts expect that about 45 percent of all orphans will have lost one of their parents because of AIDS. AIDS orphans face a difficult reality and most place themselves in deplorable situations just to survive, and it is important to take action to prevent this number from growing.
Many AIDS orphans are forced to live on the streets, where they lack access to basic resources and put themselves in physical danger. Some children live on the streets because there are not enough orphanages, an orphanage will not accept them, or because they need to make money to support other family members. Regardless of the reason, a life on the streets is difficult to live. Street children have poor access to education and medical attention, and are often difficult to reach because no one is responsible for them. During the night children sleep in compromising places like outside old movie theatres, on top of graves in graveyards, or underneath benches in parks. During the day, they beg in the streets and try to make money by washing car windows. In Haiti, there are an estimated 10,000 street children just in the capital city. The abundance of street children is hard to ignore, yet poverty in the Caribbean is so abundant that not many people have the resources to help.
The situations of street children are so desperate that children sometimes resort to fighting each other in order to live. Oftentimes street children steal money and possessions from one another. Older children and men sometimes abuse the younger street children, physically or sexually. Many children carry razors to guard themselves, and sniff glue in order to suppress their hunger and put them in a "zombie-like" disposition. A street child's exposure to drugs, violence, and abuse is startling. Drug and political gangs abduct street children and recruit them. In Trinidad, Haiti, murder rates have risen 37 percent because of the increasingly violent activities of gangs run by homeless children. Some children turn to child prostitution to make money to buy food for themselves or other children. There are an estimated 50,000 child prostitutes just in Haiti. Children should not have to experience violence, poverty, and drugs just to survive.
Some AIDS orphans work as restaveks, which are unpaid domestic workers. There are about 200,000 restaveks in the Caribbean. Often times they are sold into this labor after a parent dies of AIDS. Restaveks are basically household servants, and fulfill tasks ranging from small chores to hard labor. Some common duties include getting water and escorting their master's children to school. Restaveks themselves do not receive an education.
One of the reasons that there are so many AIDS orphans in Haiti is that there are so many parents with AIDS. The Caribbean has the highest HIV prevalence in the world outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. The major cause of transmission in the Caribbean is unprotected sex (especially among sex workers), while less significant causes include unsafe drug injections and unprotected homosexual behavior. Haiti represents the largest HIV problem in Latin America; although, prevalence in Haiti has decreased from 5.9 percent in 1996 to 1 percent in 2007 mainly due to behavioral changes. Like in many countries, prejudices against AIDS prevent many from getting treatment. In some cases, individuals get tested for AIDS but refuse to return to the hospital. Some individuals refuse to admit that they have AIDS in order to prevent discrimination at work or in the community. Negative stigma towards AIDS is a powerful deterrent in treating and preventing AIDS.
Rainbow House (L'Arc-en-Ciel)- Haiti
Rainbow House was founded in Haiti during 1996 to serve as an orphanage for AIDS orphans, a community outreach center, and a host of a community mobilization program. UNICEF has recognized its programs a model for addressing HIV/AIDS through education and awareness. All of Rainbow House's programs incorporate a well-rounded approach to AIDS education, aimed at increasing awareness, teaching ways of prevention, and reducing stigma towards AIDS.
The orphanage is home to 36 AIDS orphans, 15 of which have AIDS themselves. The orphanage provides all of the orphans with a home, food, education, recreation, medical treatment, and other resources. The community outreach centers focuses on addressing the needs of over 100 Haitian families who are affected by HIV/AIDS in the local community. The program includes personal home visits, a variety of medical treatments, assistance in school and funeral costs, and support groups. The community mobilization program trains teachers, social works, and leaders from other local organizations in ways to address AIDS in their communities. Rainbow House works to combat AIDS at a community based level by a combination of distributing resources and increasing education.
Cyril Ross Nursery- Trinidad and Tobago
The Cyril Ross Nursery on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago houses 35 HIV positive children, and it provides medical treatment to an additional 30 children who live with their families. It is operated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization. It places a special emphasis on AIDS treatment (advanced treatment is given once per month), education, and spirituality. The Nursery arranges activities for its members and other parts of the community including social and sport activities, financial management lessons, and AIDS education.
Charline (14) from Haiti
When Charline was only seven years old, she arrived at the Rainbow House, an orphanage that currently holds about 40 children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She appeared with broken teeth, skin rashes, and scars on her body. Although her father had died, her mother was still alive, but suffering from AIDS. After being accepting into the orphanage, she tried to escape from the compound twice to return to her mother. Before going to the orphanage, Charline would search the streets for food to feed her dying mother. Yet after one month at Rainbow House, Charline's mother died.
She was not surprised at her mother's death, as she had witnessed her suffering. But this sudden change in her life bred anger. She started being mean to the other children at the orphanage, and would not let anyone sit by her. The sudden realization that both her father and mother had died provoked tears in her desperate eyes. These tragedies disturbed Charline so much that she stopped eating and sleeping.
As Charline began to witness the deaths of some of the younger AIDS infected children at the orphanage, her attitude began to change. She began to accept some of the younger children, and show affection to them. She asks God and her mother for strength during her difficult times.
Charline is now 14 years old, and still lives at the Rainbow House orphanage, where she goes to school, receives medical attention, and plays with friends. Charline aims to become a journalist or a doctor when she grows up.
Fritz Junior (15) from Haiti
Fritz's mother lives in the Dominican Republic, and his father died of AIDS. He remembers his father suffering on his deathbed, covered in sores. Fritz misses when his father was alive, and reminisces the days where he was fed and could attend school.
Now, Fritz lives on the streets, and washes cars, cleans windows, and sells dice made from dog bones to make a living. He suffers from untreated sickness, and often gets cramps after working in the cold streets. He would live at an orphanage, but he found out that the owner would rape other children so he left.
On the streets, the older boys and men abuse him, sometimes burning him with matches while he sleeps. Some of the older children throw pepper in his eyes and beat him and other children. Fritz has no one to look after him.