Oppressive Orientations in Orphan Support Projects


An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Oppressive Orientations in Orphan Support Projects in Homa Bay County, Kenya

By Isaac Odhiambo Abuya (PhD Candidate), Prof. Paul Amollo Odundo, Prof. Charles Mallans Rambo & Dr. Raphael Ondeko Nyonje

University of Nairobi

Nairobi, Kenya

  1. Oppression of Orphaned Children

Extant and recent studies and policy papers in high HIV and AIDS countries in sub-Saharan Africa have documented that millions of children below age 18 years have been orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS. UNAIDS (2010) estimated that globally about 16.6 million children aged below 18 years have reportedly lost one or both parents to AIDS.  Prior estimates in Kenya have found that approximately 3.6 million  children are orphaned or are vulnerable, and represent almost one-fifth of the total population aged <18 years (KNBS, 2010). It has been estimated that 1.1 million, or 44%, of these children have lost either 1 or both of their parents to AIDS (NACC, 2012).

While millions of other children in the region have been orphaned by other diseases, accidents, disasters and other factors, studies and policy papers in the region have focused exclusively on children believed to have been orphaned by the AIDS pandemic. What is notable about these studies and policy papers is that they have helped in documenting and telling the stories of the oppressive conditions and suffering that these orphaned children face in their communities, homes and in schools in the region.

In a region where effective relief for pain or other symptoms is often unavailable and expensive, children who have lived through their parents’ painful illness and eventual death, frequently suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety. It is said that as HIV and AIDS continue to soar in the region and household poverty deepens, orphaned children are increasingly pressured to financially contribute to the household. In most cases, the streets have become the place where these orphaned children often turn to supplement lost wages, find refuge, and sometimes to find an escape from stigma (Salaam, 2004).

These children lose everything that once offered them comfort and security and hope for the future. The oppressive distress and social isolation experienced by orphaned children both before and after the death of their parents are strongly exacerbated by the shame, fear, rejection, powerlessness and dehumanization that often surround people affected by HIV and AIDS.

Studies conducted in Kenya have confirmed that children believed to have been orphaned by AIDS undergo oppressive conditions and suffering even in their communities. A study in Kenya found that 77% of children believed to have been orphaned by AIDS had no one outside of their families whom they could tell their troubles to (HRW, 2001). These children suffer social rejection, exclusion, and heighted sense of powerlessness, not because they are orphans, but because they are believed to have been orphaned by AIDS, a highly stigmatised disease condition in Kenya.

A report by UNICEF (2013) in Kenya found that the majority of orphaned children and their households are not receiving orphan-targeted support services.  While these services are intended to address the basic or core needs of orphaned children (food and nutrition; shelter and care; legal protection; health care; psychosocial support; and education), millions of these children are socially marginalized and are not receiving the services as outlined by the global framework for the protection, care, and support of orphans and other vulnerable children (UNICEF, 2013).  The marginalization and social exclusion of these children from the services exacerbates their oppression and suffering. There is also a strong possibility that the coverage of these services is limited to a few orphaned children, or not adequately financed and properly targeted.

Pfleiderer and Kantai (2010) conducted a study in Kenya on orphaned children, and they found that systems and services to prevent and respond to child maltreatment in Kenya are weak, and many cases of child abuse and maltreatment go unreported. Maltreatment of orphaned children includes child neglect, abandonment, assault, sexual abuse, child prostitution, harmful cultural practices, and exploitative labor.  Orphaned children who lack adequate adult care and protection are at higher risk of all forms of child maltreatment. These are some of the worst forms of oppression and social injustice.

Sexual abuse of orphaned girls is one of the worst forms of oppression that are visited on orphaned children. A study undertaken jointly by UNICEF and the government of Kenya (UNICEF & GoK, 2006) in the coastal region of the country on the extent of sexual abuse and exploitation of orphaned girls indicate that some 10,000 – 15,000 orphaned girls living in coastal areas are involved in casual sex work – up to 30% of all 12-18 year olds living in those areas. A further 2,000 – 3,000 girls and boys are involved in full-time year round commercial sex activity in the region.

Exploitation of orphaned children has been documented in a number of studies across Kenya. For example,  a study conducted by Biemba and colleagues in Kenya (2009) found that of 1520 orphaned children enrolled in the study, very few had received any medical (3.7%), psychological (4.1%), or material support (6.2%) in the past 12 months, in spite of the fact that there were projects funded to support these children. Although still low, school support was the most common type of support received for school-aged orphans aged 5–17 years, at 11.5%. These children also take on income- and sustenance-generating activities that put them further at increased risk of exploitation and abuse.

Psychological oppression caused by trauma and stress following parental death and the painful realities of exclusion have been documented in studies among orphaned children.  For instance, a longitudinal study conducted in  study in Uganda’s Rakai District to determine the nature and emotional problems of orphaned children found out that majority of orphaned children felt angered about their parents’ death, especially those living with relatives and that many of them were showing signs of stress and trauma(Sengendo.et.al, 1997). Orphans experienced additional trauma from lack of nurturance, guidance and a sense of attachment, which impeded their socialization process- through damaged self-confidence and motivation (Sengendo.et.al, 1997). When a parent dies from AIDS, trauma is often accompanied by stigma and discrimination. At school, AIDS orphans were singled out or rejected by their peers, which created barriers to healthcare, education and access to social events (Subbarao et .al, 2004).

A study conducted in Zimbabwe by UNICEF to determine children’s needs found out that orphaned children were worried most of the time that they were growing up without parental care (24%), while 6%, 19%, 5%, and 21% mentioned ill health, poverty, shelter and not completing school respectively as their greatest concerns (UNICEF, 2005).

Sengendo and Nambi (1997 in a Ugandan study, found that most children felt hopeless or angry when their parents became sick and scared their parents would die. Most orphans were depressed, with lower expectations about the future: fewer orphans expected to get a job, wanted to get married or wanted children than non-orphans. Depression was more likely in 10-14 years old than 15-19 years and such children were more likely to be living with a widowed father than with a widowed mother, suggesting that the loss of a mother is more distressing than the loss of a father Stigmatisation, dropping out of school, changed friends, increased workload, discrimination and social isolation of orphans all increase the stress and trauma of parental death.

Early evidence of the educational exclusion and poor outcomes for orphaned children came from Uganda (Muller & Abbas, 1990). There was early evidence that the financial strain   led to households with orphans failing to raise funds to send these children to school, while non orphans in the same households were going to school. World Bank (1997) in a study in seven African countries found that primary enrolment rates of orphans, especially double orphans, were generally lower than in non-orphans, especially in countries with low overall enrolment rates and in households with least assets.

The education of orphaned children is often disrupted when parents become sick, especially older girl children who are required to take over household and care giving chores. In Uganda, amongst children 15-19 years whose parents had died, only 29% continued their schooling undisrupted; 25% lost school time and 45% dropped out of school; school-age children with the greatest chance of continuing their education were those who lived with a surviving parent; those fostered by grandparents had the least chance (7%) (Sengendo & Nambi, 1997).

Analyses in 10 sub-Saharan countries found evidence of intra-household discrimination against orphans as manifested in schooling, with orphans having lower enrollment rates than non-orphans in the same household (Hepburn, 2001). In a study by UNICEF in Andra Pradesh, Nepal (UNICEF, 2009) on barriers to orphaned children’s wellbeing, found that orphaned children had very little say in decisions affecting their lives and that no advice was given to them nor were their opinions sought.


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About the Authors

Isaac Odhiambo Abuya

Homa Bay, Kenya



Isaac Odhiambo Abuya
is a PhD candidate in Project Planning and Management at the University of Nairobi. He holds Masters of Arts in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi and Bachelor of Education from Egerton University. Isaac Abuya is the Chief of Staff in the County Government of Homa Bay, Kenya. Mr. Abuya has 22 years’ experience in designing, implementing and evaluating high impact educational, health and social projects for vulnerable populations and communities in Kenya. He is the chairman of the Kenya Association for Performance Management (KAPM), and the Value Chain Management Association (VCMA). He can be reached through his e-mail: [email protected]


Prof. Paul Amollo Odundo, PhD

Nairobi, Kenya



Prof. Paul Amollo Odundo
is Professor of Education and Chairman of Educational Communication Department, University of Nairobi.  Prof. Odundo obtained his PhD in Administration from the University of Nairobi, Master of Arts degree in Administration from Lagos University, Nigeria and Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Nairobi. Prof. Odundo is a distinguished scholar and has published a number of research papers and articles on Public Governance, Educational Management, Public Administration, Project Planning and Management and Project Financing and. He has supervised a number of Masters and PhD students in diverse areas. Jointly with Professor Rambo and Dr. Nyonje, Prof. Odundo is supervising Isaac Abuya’s doctoral research on Deficit Designs in Orphan Support Projects in Kenya Prof. Prof. Odundo can be reached through his E-mail: [email protected].


Prof. Charles Mallans Rambo, PhD

Nairobi, Kenya



Prof. Charles Mallans Rambo
is Professor of Education and Chairman Department of External Studies, University of Nairobi. Prof. Rambo holds a PhD in Financing University Education from the University of Nairobi, MBA (Finance) from Newport University, California, USA, and Bachelors of Business Administration (Finance & Accounting) from Newport University, California, USA. Prof. Rambo is a distinguished scholar and published over 50 research papers and articles on Project Financing and Financing of Distance Learning Education, Project Planning and Management. He has supervised a number of Masters and PhD students in diverse areas. Jointly with Professor Odundo and Dr. Nyonje, Prof. Rambo is supervising Isaac Abuya’s doctoral research focusing on Deficit Designs in Orphan Support Projects in Kenya. Prof. Rambo can be reached through his e-mail: [email protected].


Dr. Raphael Ondeko Nyonje, PhD

Nairobi, Kenya


Dr. Raphael Ondeko Nyonje
is a senior lecturer at the Department of Extra- Mural Studies, University of Nairobi, and the Resident Lecturer, Kisumu Campus, University of Nairobi. He holds a PhD in Education (Measurement and Evaluation) from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA-Kenya), a Master of Education Planning from the University of Nairobi and Bachelors in Education from Kenyatta University.  Dr. Nyonje has published a number of research papers and articles on Project Planning and Management, Project Monitoring and Evaluation, and has supervised a number of postgraduate students. Jointly with Professors Odundo and Rambo, Dr. Nyonje is supervising Isaac Abuya PhD research based on Deficit Designs in Orphan Support Projects in Kenya. He can be reached through his e-mail: [email protected]