There are a rapidly growing number of vulnerable children across Africa facing multiple violations of their rights. They suffer hunger, ill health, violence, neglect, loss of access to education and opportunities for play, and have little chance of a successful and happy future. An estimated 12 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, countless millions more children are living in households with sick parents and are helping to care for them. Millions more African children are affected by conflict, famine and poverty. The total number of orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa was 48.3 million at the end of 2005.1 Although anti-retroviral treatment offers hope that fewer HIV-positive people will become sick in the future, there are countless children whose lives have already been disrupted.
Governments bear a responsibility to care for these children, but too often they do not. For centuries, communities in Africa have helped neighbours in crisis. But the huge numbers of children in need mean that neighbourly support is no longer enough. As a response, community members are getting together to assist children and their families within their communities. Community initiatives can provide various kinds of assistance including parenting, protection, psychosocial and spiritual support, and material assistance.
However, these community groups require assistance to most effectively care for children. They need support to deliver the best responses, reaching the most vulnerable children over the long term. Children at the Centre is primarily written for those working in agencies (supporting organisations) that are currently supporting, or wishing to support, the establishment of community groups to support vulnerable children. In this guide, ‘community groups’ refers to collectives of community members who are caring for vulnerable children.