There is widespread concern that the numbers of children living in ’child-headed households’ are rapidly increasing as a result of AIDS-related adult mortality in much of sub-Saharan Africa. This systematic analysis of representative national surveys over the period 2000 – 2007 aimed to shed light on the extent to which this is the case in South Africa, and to examine the phenomenon in more detail.

The analysis explored trends in the number of children living in child-only households, and characterised these children relative to children living in households with adults (mixed-generation households). The findings indicated that:

  • the proportion of child-only households was relatively small (0.67% in 2006) and did not appear to be increasing; and
  • the vast majority (92.1%) of children resident in child-only households have a living parent.

The findings raised critical questions about the circumstances leading to the formation of child-only households, and highlighted that they cannot for the main part be ascribed to HIV orphaning.

Nonetheless, the number of children living in this household form is not insignificant, and their circumstances, when compared with children in mixed-generation households, point to a range of challenges, including greater economic vulnerability and inadequate service access.

The project findings suggested that a solitary focus on the HIV pandemic and its related orphaning as the cause of child-only households masks other important issues for consideration in addressing their needs, and risks the development of inappropriate policies, programmes and interventions.

The project was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.


Further reading

Child-headed households in South Africa: A statistical brief 2009
Meintjes H, Hall K, Marera D & Boulle A

Orphans of the AIDS epidemic: The extent, nature and circumstances of child-headed households in South Africa
Meintjes H, Hall K, Marera DH & Boulle A 2010 
AIDS care, 22(1): 40-49.