MBABANE, 17 June (IRIN) - NGOs in Swaziland have accused the government of dragging its feet on implementing a comprehensive plan to improve the lives of children.
At a meeting on Friday in Matsapha, an industrial estate outside the commercial hub of Manzini, social welfare NGOs emphasised the growing number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).
Alan Brody, Country Representative for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the failure to put in place a national policy for children had seen an expansion of uncoordinated programmes assisting children orphaned by AIDS. The number of AIDS orphans in Swaziland is projected to rise to around 150,000 by 2010.
The 2003 National Policy for Children, which draws guidelines for those who wish to assist OVC, and safeguards against opportunists who intend enriching themselves through OVC programmes, was expected to go into effect early last year by stakeholders, such as health and social welfare NGOs, traditional leaders, government ministries and religious leaders, but the policy is still with the cabinet.
Brody said a recent announcement that a US-based religious group intended to acquire two game parks and 13,000 ha of land in Swaziland to build an "orphan city" was misdirected.
Some delegates at the meeting also raised concerns over the ongoing neglect of disabled children, and suggested that the term OVC be changed to OVDC - 'orphans and vulnerable and disabled children'.
Joshua Simelane, coordinator of the Federation of the Disabled of Swaziland, told IRIN: "Nothing at all has been done to address the needs of orphans with disabilities."
Over 30,000 Swazis are physically disabled. Simelane pointed out that since the establishment of the National Centre for the Blind 35 years ago, only 100 blind Swazi children have pursued secondary education.
"There is only one school for the deaf, and only one school for the visually impaired, so most disabled children need to be integrated into the public school system. But this is not happening and you find them at home, doing nothing - these children must learn to earn a living, and start their own businesses," he urged.
Nonhlanhla Dlamini, director of the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse, noted that disabled children were generally more vulnerable.
"People who are partly blind are particularly vulnerable to rape, because the perpetrator knows the victim cannot identify them. Presently, the police require visual identification; this must change," said Dlamini, adding that AIDS information and other educational literature should also be made available in Braille.
"Another problem is that there are no statistics showing how many disabled children are HIV-positive or have AIDS," Simelane pointed out. "Without this information it is difficult to find out who needs what, and what is required, to formulate policy."
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