30 September, 2014 - Liberia’s Ebola orphans face poverty, abandonment and stigma

The number of children orphaned by Ebola is rising fast as Liberia’s poor, single-parent families take the brunt of the deadly virus, warns child rights organisation Plan International.

Ebola has so far claimed 1,667 lives in Liberia, among them scores of single mothers who have left young families behind. Around 300 children are thought to have been orphaned by the virus so far.

Since a civil war that ended in 2003, the country has been afflicted by a social problem of broken, one-parent families, as traumatised, unemployed men reject marriage and family values. Now, according to government sources, around 300 children are struggling to cope after losing their care-givers to the spreading epidemic.

Koala Oumarou, Country Director for Plan Liberia, said: “The large number of single-parent families in Liberia means that as mothers are dying from Ebola, the children lose their sole care-giver, and have no-one to look after them. Once their mother dies, the orphaned children have to leave school, if they were in school in the first place. They are ostracised by the community, and they have to work, to try to make a living.”

Anita Queirazza, Child Protection in Emergencies Specialist for Plan International, added: “Treated children and adults who return to their communities are being feared, avoided and threatened, leaving them excluded and socially isolated.”

Many orphans are also being stigmatised after their mothers’ deaths because of their association with Ebola. With widespread fear and anxiety among affected communities as deaths continue, other families are unwilling to take them in because they are afraid of contracting the virus.

Oumarou said: “These children are really stigmatised by Ebola, and many families just do not want to help them after their parents die because they are scared of contracting the disease. But these children are in dire need of assistance.”

“Extended families don’t want to take care of orphans of affected parents or other vulnerable children anymore out of fear of being contaminated or stigmatised in the community,” added Queirazza.

The children’s rights organisation Plan International is responding across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in areas of child protection, social mobilisation and behaviour change through awareness raising activities.

It has also teamed up with International Medical Corps (IMC), a leader in global health and emergency response, to respond to the deadly virus.

Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Response and Preparedness for Plan International, added: “Ebola has hit children hard and it will leave lasting impacts. They are disproportionately affected both directly and indirectly.

“Not only are they affected directly and becoming ill, but they are also losing their parents and care-givers. We must make children, expectant mothers and nursing mothers a priority.”

Australians wishing to help can give to Plan’s Ebola crisis appeal at plan.org.au or by ringing 13 75 26. $41 can provide a hand-washing facility for 100 people to help prevent spread of the virus. $111 can provide 80 infection control posters to help children and communities understand the signs and symptoms. $317 can provide 40 pairs of disposable gloves and overalls to protect a health worker.

Relevant photos are available here: http://bit.ly/planebola. Please credit ‘Plan International Australia’.

Editors’ notes:
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious or political affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International in Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945