Attention – Due To Allegations of Plagiarism, This Article Is Highly Suspect 

Caring for orphans has been a time honored work of the voluntary sector, especially religious institutions. The Christian church itself runs scores of children’s’ homes and orphanages in the country. Orphans brought up in these institutions have been brought up to live , fruitful , productive lives. But a new strain of orphans is emerging that may challenge all the established paradigms and processes of orphan care.

The ministry of health and family welfare says that 1,67,078 cases of AIDS have been reported from 1986 to March 31st this year. However this is considered to be an estimate on the lower side as probably only about 10 percent of the infected are aware of their status. Many of the children born to these HIV positive people are themselves infected and at some point many of them become orphans as one or more of their parents possibly are chronically sick or die. In what ways are India’s AIDS orphans challenging the traditional norms of orphan care ? Well for one , firstly consider the sheer numbers. India today is home to the largest number of AIDS orphans in the world.
The odds against AIDS-orphaned children are staggering. These children are vulnerable to a number of risks ranging from social exclusion and economic deprivation to illiteracy, malnutrition and exploitation. They are also at increased risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases, abuse and drug use, with many young girls turning to prostitution in order to survive. AIDS orphans are often shunned by their communities; many are denied property rights and rights to inheritance. Those who cannot be taken in by their relatives end up living on the streets.


With numbers such as these , typical responses will not work. An AIDS orphan apart from being an orphan has all the attendant disadvantages described above and then is at the receiving end of discrimination in society for no fault of his own. Now orphan children can be either simply affected or infected as well , in which case , they will need additional skills in coping and self care. The knee jerk response of society to pack these children into orphanages will not work because of two reasons- a typical child care worker often will not have the skills to handle children whom will need this level of intense care and support. Secondly we will not have enough institutions to admit all of these children and then maintain these as the cost of that will be huge. This will necessitate some form of prioritization regarding who goes into institutions and what happens to those who don’t get in. now in India , while the institutionalization set up is well established and the adoption mechanism is also well established there is nothing in between these two options.

With orphanages and institutions untenable for such large numbers of children and adoption too no t viable for legal or social reasons(for instance in India , as of now only Hindus can legally adopt), foster care , which is widely used in else where but rarely practiced in India is worth exploring and trying. Unlike adoption , which is irrevocable and permanent, in foster care , a child goes and stays with another family which wants him and cares for him, but stays in touch with his natural family and the stay for foster care is temporary and for a fixed number of years. With many of the AIDS orphans staying in single parent households headed possibly by grand parents or a widowed mother , the emotional bonds in such families is strong even though economic constraints often make it difficult or impossible for the child to be given the care, support and education that one needs.

However, what will delay or hinder the foster parent concept idea from taking root in India apart from cultural prejudices and stigma is the absence of a legal framework. With child protection increasingly becoming an issue and child abuse now a proven fact even in a supposedly conservative society like India, some guidelines are a must. However , with all the red tape associated with law making and policy formulation in India – foster care is an idea whose time has surely come.

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