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House Passes Bill to Meet Needs of Children Orphaned by AIDS
WASHINGTON, June 15 – The US Congress has at last begun to address a humanitarian crisis that has moved the hearts of many Americans and raised alarm among security experts: the suffering of millions of children orphaned by the deadly AIDS epidemic.
Last night, in a stunning display of bipartisanship, the House passed by unanimous vote a landmark initiative to help orphans and vulnerable children in developing countries. A companion bill, initiated by Sen. Richard Lugar, is gathering momentum in the Senate.
The bill can be downloaded in pdf form by clicking on this link:
“I applaud the House for passing this bill,” said The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church, USA. “This bipartisan legislation is an important step in fulfilling our nation’s commitment to fighting the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and building a more sustainable future for all God’s children.”
Entitled the “Assistance for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act of 2004,” (HR 4061) the bill breaks new ground by addressing the needs of children in a comprehensive way. When fully funded, the bill will provide children with basic care and support, educational opportunities, and medical care, including AIDS treatment.
Every 14 seconds another child is orphaned by AIDS. 14 million children have already lost one or both parents to AIDS, the equivalent of every child under five in America.
Among other innovations, the bill authorizes the US to help countries eliminate school fees. According to recent UNICEF report, abolishing fees would help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. “Getting girls in school and keep them there would jump-start progress on the entire development agenda for 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals,” notes UNICEF.
“I strongly urge the Senate to take up this initiative and pass a similar bill quickly,” said James Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church. “Many of the churches in our denomination are impacted daily by the crisis of AIDS particularly those in Africa,” Winkler noted. “In the Gospel of Luke, we read that ‘From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.’ The United States has been given much – therefore, much is demanded.”
“The lives of millions of orphans are in peril due to the AIDS crisis, but this bill can begin to change their fate,” said Dan O’Neill, a member of the Student Global AIDS Campaign at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. “Their future now depends on the Senate, and I hope Senator Lugar’s measure moves quickly forward.”
Experts say the US should give $3 billion to deliver on the bill’s promises. The section that addresses school fees could be implemented with $250 million, and 17 Senators recently sent a letter to Senators McConnell and Leahy urging these funds be provided for 2005.
“Millions of children are now counting on Congress to not only pass this bill but also provide full funding,” noted Dr. Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of the Global AIDS Alliance.
The bill was championed by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), Rep. Lantos (D-CA), Rep. McCollum (D-MN), and Rep. Leach (R-IA), among others.
The legislation is supported by the Global Action for Children, a civic-engagement campaign to ensure comprehensive support for orphans and vulnerable children. The coalition includes major religious organizations, student groups, as well as groups focused on health and education (list at www.globalactionforchildren.org).
Assistance for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children In Developing Countries Act of 2004
The legislation provides a comprehensive response to the ever-growing number of orphaned children around the globe. As of 2001, an estimated 110 million orphans now live throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Every 14 seconds another child is orphaned by AIDS. With parents dying at an alarming rate, children are left without food, shelter, education, or protection. The global orphans crisis is a profound humanitarian disaster that will be felt for decades to come.
Orphans rarely are able to attend school because many cannot afford school fees or are forced to financially support their families or care for sick relatives. These children are much more vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor and physical and sexual abuse. Many analysts consider the orphans crisis a security threat because children without hope are more likely to be recruited by militias, rebel armies and terrorists. The Assistance for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act brings new hope to millions of impoverished children.
PROVIDING BASIC CARE AND SUPPORT FOR ORPHANS
The legislation expands the capacity of communities to take care of the basic needs of orphans. The bill also promotes school nutrition, psychosocial support and protection of the rights of orphans as key building blocks of a comprehensive response.
EXPANDING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ORPHANS
In Africa, 40% of school-age children are not in school. Orphans are disproportionately excluded from educational opportunity because they can’t afford school fees. The bill expands access to school by encouraging countries to eliminate barriers to education.
BRINGING THE HOPE OF TREATMENT TO ORPHANS
Each year 700,000 babies are born infected with HIV and most of these children will become orphans. Treatment for orphans and vulnerable children will promote normal growth and healthy development and bring new hope to the littlest victims of AIDS.
ENSURING ACCOUNTABILITY OF PROGRAMS FOR ORPHANS
The legislation builds in monitoring and evaluation criteria so that taxpayer money will be used in the most effective way to help orphans. The bill also provides improved coordination of orphans programs to ensure effective oversight of the response.
The legislation is supported by the Global Action for Children coalition, including: American Jewish World Service, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, U.S.A., Global AIDS Alliance, Global Justice, Hope for African Children Initiative, Keep a Child Alive, Pan-African Children’s Fund, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, RESULTS, Student Global AIDS Campaign, Student Campaign for Child Survival, United Methodist Church, Board of Church and Society.
Global Action for Children is an independent campaign of civic organizations whose goal is to ensure comprehensive support for orphans, vulnerable children, and children-at-risk. The coalition includes major religious organizations, student groups, as well as groups focussed on health and education.