Evans, R. (2012). African Journal of AIDS Research (AJAR), 11, 177-189. doi: 10.2989/16085906.2012.734977
This article explores the resilience of orphaned young people in safeguarding physical assets (land and property) inherited from their parents and sustaining their households without a co-resident adult relative. Drawing on the concept of resilience and the sustainable livelihoods framework, the article analyses the findings of an exploratory study conducted in 2008–2009 in Tanzania and Uganda with 15 orphaned young people heading households, 18 of their siblings, and 39 NGO workers and community members. The findings suggest that inherited land and property were key determining factors in the formation and viability of the child- and youth-headed households in both rural and urban areas. Despite experiences of stigma and marginalisation in the community, social networks were crucial in enabling the young people to protect themselves and their property, providing access to material and emotional resources, and enhancing their skills and capabilities to develop sustainable livelihoods. Support for child- and youth-headed households needs to recognise young people’s agency and should adopt a holistic approach to their lives by analysing the physical assets, material resources, and human and social capital available to the household, as well as giving consideration to individual young people’s wellbeing, outlook and aspirations. Alongside cash transfers and material support, youth-led collective mobilisation that is sustained over time may also help build resilience and foster supportive social environments in order to challenge property-grabbing and the stigmatisation of child- and youth-headed households.
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Comment and Implications for Policy and Practice
The author begins with the assertion that three decades of the HIV epidemic have led to changes in patterns of care and inheritance in East and Southern Africa. Customary law has long privileged men and excluded women and children from asset ownership and inheritance. Under traditional jurisdiction, the land and property of a deceased man are divided among male heirs with the expectation that they take responsibility for the widow and her children. Enforcement of this responsibility has weakened and stigma associated with HIV and AIDS has led to asset stripping by malevolent relatives, further hampering children’s access to their parents’ land and property. Evans used mixed methods, combining interviews with focus groups with young caregivers, their siblings, NGO workers and community members, allowing for feedback of findings and participation in the formulation of key messages through posters and video-recorded drama and singing performances. The core data comes from 15 young caregivers identified by 5 NGOs providing HIV-related support, an approach that the author concedes could have led to an atypical sample of young people – young people who, in the formulation of Skovdal and Daniel in the introductory piece, could be well-schooled in international aid and NGO ‘speak’. The author found that almost all the young people had retained their parents’ land and property despite customary practice, and that these assets were crucial to the viability of the households they headed. The determination among young people to retain assets – despite the fact that they had not yet attained adulthood status – emanated from their fear that unscrupulous relatives might appropriate their parent’s assets as well as a desire among siblings to remain together and to be independent. This independence, if against the wishes of family and kin, was achieved with the material and social assistance of NGOs who reported believing that it was better for the young people and their sib household. It is noteworthy that the researcher did not interrogate potential unintended adverse effects of this particular NGO intervention – such as alienation from family and community – by interviewing extended family members and traditional authorities to ascertain their perspective. This demonstrates a frequently observed tendency by NGOs to assume that they have to ‘replace’ children’s families on the assumption that these families are inadequate, cruel, ill-meaning and the like, without collecting evidence to support an assessment of pre-existing family relationships and the ramifications of one or other intervention. It is noteworthy that young people themselves reported relying on traditional authorities to protect their land and property rights. The author questions the sustainability of NGO intervention yet, in the framing of the issues confines the resources available to young people responsible for households to their sib families and to NGOs, as if few other resources exist in the dense social environments of extended families, kin and clan, and urban and rural communities living in poverty. I found it disappointing in a special issue on the social determinants of resilience to encounter neglect of family and community resources potentially available to young people other than NGOs.