The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has left South Africa with a youthful population. To reach half a Century is to have a blessed life and unfortunately few can acquire that blessing. To combat this situation, many grandparents are taking on the role of guardian for these orphans, especially in township communities such as Sweetwaters and Edendale. As the country struggles with generations of AIDS orphans, the Government has put together an initiative known as Grandmother Grants..
Unfortunately, due to my persuasive virus, I was unable to work in the Government Hospitals this Monday. However, as I met for Zanini Bantwana’s core team meeting, and on my journey home for recovery, I was exposed to another disquieting scenario. Keeping families together, within familiar communities can be one of the greatest comforts for children who have been orphaned and in some respects abandoned. The benefits system which provides, predominantly grandmothers, with a monthly allowance say of R600 (£60) per month, is not a lot, but used wisely can clothe, feed and even send a child to a basic school. However, when a grandparent is acting as guardian for four, five, six even seven children – well it can become a business. Children can easily become, especially in the economically starved situations that face South Africa townships, a precious commodity.
In the UK, when adoption or fostering occurs, Social Services are the umbrella organisation which (are supposed to) ensure the child or children in question are adequately looked after. If neglect in any form occurs, then the children are (theoretically) removed from that home.
What then happens, as I was told yesterday, when the social workers are part of the corruption? If social workers are threatening or coercing grandparents to ‘share’ their benefits with them to get a child, or if they are in ‘cahoots’ with one another, then what hope is there of justice, when the authorities are corrupt?
I was told a story as I was driven home, of a young girl, say around 12, in Edendale. She was an orphan, put into the care of extended family members. These ‘family members’ were prostituting her. At the age of 12, the people who are meant to be your guardians are the ones who are commidifying, soliciting and violating your body for profit. So, she ran away. Ran away to Social Services, to complain and seek refuge, respite and healing. Obviously her family are quite keen to get her back. Not only for the state benefits she provides, but also for the ‘other’ benefits. I don’t know what the outcome of the story was – but what happens if the family are able to make a deal with the social worker? If they offer to give them a percentage of all their state benefits? What might the social worker do?
It is a deplorable, painful concept, and one that is not solely occurring in South African townships. That would be both an ignorant and dangerous mistake to make. Prostitution, trafficking, abuse and corruption happen the world over in a variety of forms. Whether it is UK MP’s stealing from the public in the Expenses Scandal, or social workers stealing from the State through corrupt ‘business deals’, it is the poor, the weak and the young that are the victims, and it is an injustice to them.
Prayer for Day 15: That South African Social Workers would be reformed, and the Government would put in the right checks to ensure orphans are receiving the best care, attention and safe homes. That Grandmothers and all other family members who take on the care of an orphan are filled with compassion and a desire to protect and nurture, and not exploit. That children the world over, in our own home communities who are being exploited would come into the protection of just members of the Authorities, and would be saved from a life of victimization and neglect.