BRAZZAVILLE, 17 June (IRIN) - Even though the government of the Republic of Congo says it is "worried" by the "problem of orphans in the country, it will not open orphanages to accommodate the tens of thousands of children who have no one to look after them.
"The government will not fight to open orphanages - this is why the private sector has chosen to do so," said Florent Niama, the director of family and social services in the Ministry of Social Affairs.
He added that members of the private sector who were opening orphanages nationwide were ill-advised to do so.
According to Niama, the government opposes housing children in orphanages. Conditions in orphanages were not always better than those on the streets, he said. For this reason, the government believed orphans should be placed with host families, a solution more in line with traditional African practices.
Niama was speaking in the capital, Brazzaville, during celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child. The occasion is recognised annually throughout Africa in memory of South African children shot dead by police in 1976 in Soweto, a Johannesburg township, during the apartheid era of racial segregation in that country.
To commemorate the event, the ministry screened "Vulnerable Child", a film by Sabastien Kamba, a Congolese, which depicts the lives of the country's orphans.
"Previously we were unaware of the problem of vulnerable children. But today there are so many of them who have not been housed by local authorities," said Dieudonné Goma, a Pointe-Noire businessman who appeared in the film.
Although no official figures of the number of orphans in the ROC are available to the public, their number continues to grow yearly. Some children come from Kinshasa, capital of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"If there are so many orphans in the country today, it is because solidarity no longer exists," Niama said.
To mark the Day of the African Child in 2004, the government initiated a programme in which it placed 500 orphans between the ages of six and 14 years with families. Four hundred were placed with families in Brazzaville and 100 in Pointe-Noire. The ministry said it would place another 300 children with host families in 2005.
The minister for social affairs, Emilienne Raoul, said that traditionally host families were a true refuge for each orphan, who was raised just like the other children in the household. "Today, reality is different. The child is driven out of the home," she said.
Many of Congo's orphans sleep rough along main roads in Brazzaville and in the country's second largest city, Pointe-Noire. They are exposed to the elements, to malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other diseases.
In its last survey in 2002, the Ministry of Health and Population counted some 78,000 children orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS, a pandemic, which it says, is the second greatest cause of death in the ROC, after malaria.
"Individually and collectively we are all responsible for Congo's orphans," Raoul said.
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