Household Economic Strengthening: Sustainable Solutions for Vulnerable Children
Limited Earning Capacity among Nigerian Women
In Nigeria, women and girls are not only caregivers for their husbands and children, but also for orphans, the elderly, and the ill in their communities. In recent decades, these caretaker responsibilities have been compounded by the AIDS epidemic, which has left Nigeria with more than 2.5 million AIDS orphans and 3.1 million HIV-infected citizens. The burden of caretaker tasks often require girls and young women to forgo an education, thus leaving them unable to earn an income and vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. In addition to Nigeria’s HIV & AIDS epidemic, recent years of political instability and violence have increased mortality rates among Nigerian men and left many families struggling to survive without the support of a male breadwinner. The widows and children these men leave behind are often disowned by relatives who cannot afford to care for them. Without an education or professional skills, many orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) are drawn or coerced into child labor, early marriage, and sex work. Although some government and community programs exist to support Nigerian women and children, such services are sparse and often ineffective due to poor management, a lack of human resource capacity, and insufficient funding.
Including Caregivers in OVC Programming
In 2009, the Government of Nigeria welcomed Management Sciences for Health (MSH) to lead the PEPFAR- and USAID- funded Community-Based Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CUBS) project. Within the first project year, the CUBS team discovered that the majority of OVC enrolled in their programs were under the care of impoverished female household heads. The team agreed that efforts to improve the lives of these vulnerable children could not neglect the needs of their female caregivers. If CUBS could help these women increase their income and use the new earnings to improve care for OVC, the long-term benefits would be significant and sustainable. The team began working toward this goal, and by 2010, had initiated the household economic strengthening program.