At the end of 2006 it was estimated that 39.5 million human beings worldwide were affected by AIDS. Sixty-four percent of this figure is concentrated in Africa and 22 percent in Asia.
Human behaviour is integral to the transmission of HIV and all efforts to halt its spread need us to understand the social and cultural traditions and values that relate not just to risk behaviour, but also to the appropriateness of talk about sexually transmitted diseases, the stigma of having acquired HIV/AIDS or being in contact with those who are affected. Frontline service workers working in AIDS-affected communities often must deal with government denial and impediments to controlling the spread of AIDS as well as with gender, class and racial discrimination which amplifies the impacts of HIV/AIDS on the poorest people.
In many countries children and families are particularly affected. It is estimated that globally 15 million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS and that by 2010 this number will exceed 25 million. Frequently the oldest child, grandparent or another household assumes the responsibility of care for the family, but often children whose parents have died of AIDS are stigmatised and ostracised by their communities because they are assumed to be HIV positive themselves. The consequences of HIV/AIDS for children are far-reaching, increasing their exposure to poverty, malnutrition and illness (physical and psychological) as well as the risks of homelessness, exploitation through labour, begging, neglect or prostitution, violence and abuse, and the likelihood of not acquiring an education.
According to UNICEF approximately 246 million children across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa are engaged in child labour. Almost 70 per cent (171 million) of these children work in hazardous conditions in mines, with dangerous machinery and vehicles, or exposed to chemicals and a high risk of injuries related to heavy lifting and fatigue. Most child labourers are invisible, working within homes, workshops or isolated agricultural plantations where detection is unlikely. Millions are forced into work – including prostitution, pornography and as child soldiers in armed conflict – as a consequence of trafficking and kidnapping, debt bondage or other forms of slavery.
The demand for child labour continues due to factors such as poverty, family dysfunction, unemployment, obligations to help support the family, and parents’ negative attitudes towards education. Around the world, children are typically recruited from poor, rural communities. The parents or caregivers of these children often have little education so the children are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation. The invisible nature of their work increases a child’s vulnerability to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, working long hours with little or no pay and prevents children from attending school.
The right to education is one of the basic human rights enshrined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. For an estimated 115 million children worldwide this right has been denied or disrupted. There are many factors contributing to and perpetuating this, including the impacts of conflict, violence and natural disasters in displacing people or leading to the destruction of education facilities and infrastructure.
Gender inequalities, expressed through the relative economic and cultural value of an education for boys and girls, out-and-out discrimination, or a lack of safety for girls outside the home, also mark the record with women and girls making up approximately two-thirds of the world population that lacks basic literacy skills.