The number of orphans in Lesotho is rapidly increasing. Among countries with HIV prevalence greater than 1 percent, Lesotho has the largest percentage of children who have lost one or both parents. The Lesotho Orphans and Vulnerable Children Situation Analysis report was completed in 2011. The analysis estimated that there are 1,072,974 children under the age of 18 in the country. Of these, 33.8% (362,665) are orphans. The total number of double orphans (children who have lost both parents) is estimated to be 23.6 percent or 253,222 children. 10 to 13 percent, or approximately 125,000, are characterized as vulnerable children.
Socio-economic challenges facing orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in Lesotho include high rates of school drop-out due to lack of funds to pay school fees or the need to stay home to care for a sick parent or to take care of siblings. Households with OVC have low agricultural productivity and low purchasing power. As a result, OVC and their families are at risk of inadequate access to food and malnutrition.
Poverty, cultural practices, and taboos that are deeply rooted in the rural communities make it difficult to fully address certain issues, like stigma, negatively impacting OVC care and support. The weakening of traditional support structures and widespread poverty in the country has shifted the care of children to public and nongovernmental institutions, volunteer caregivers, community-based support groups, and nonrelative guardians. OVC are increasingly vulnerable to depression, HIV infection, rape, abuse, and abandonment. Many OVC lack positive role models and the essential psychosocial support required to develop into responsible, productive adults. Fear and confusion surrounding HIV and AIDS has resulted in increased infection rates and teenage pregnancy among OVC. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 28,000 children under the age of 15 were HIV positive as of 2009. The enormous cohort of children who lack adequate supervision, parenting, education, or support requires a concerted effort to address their needs.