General information on Malawi

Malawi is heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Tens of thousands die each year because of AIDS. The extent to which the disease affects the country's children is beyond compare. SOS Children's Villages is helping vulnerable children and young people through its four different programmes across the country.

One of the world's least developed countries

Young children from the SOS Kindergarten visiting an educational farm (photo: SOS archives).
Young children from the SOS Kindergarten visiting an educational farm (photo: SOS archives).
Malawi is a landlocked country in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the most recent census, the country's population amounts to roughly 17.3 million. Malawi's largest city Lilongwe, in the central region, is also its capital. At present, Malawi is among the world's most densely populated and least developed nations. Although the government has been making efforts to fight high levels of HIV/AIDS, the pandemic still profoundly affects the country both demographically and economically. Life expectancy is very low and Malawi's death rate continues to be one of the highest in the entire world.

The country's main economic pillar is agriculture, employing about 90 per cent of the workforce and accounting for roughly 30 per cent of the gross domestic product. Tobacco is the most important commodity and accounts for roughly half of all exports. Malawi largely depends on multilateral and bilateral economic assistance by the IMF, the World Bank and individual donor countries.

HIV/AIDS affects the lives of many families

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the United Nations, more than half of the population live in poverty. Out of 182 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index, Malawi currently ranks 170. Tens of thousands, particularly in rural areas, face unimaginable living conditions. They remain without access to running water, decent sanitation and medical facilities. The proportion of poor is highest in rural areas of the southern and northern parts of the county. Access to public services and economic opportunities is profoundly unequal across the population. 30 per cent of the country's children do not even start primary school. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has a strong impact on society. Around 11 per cent of Malawians between 15 and 49 years of age live with HIV/AIDS, making the country one of the most affected nations worldwide.

The disease remains the biggest health issue in the country. More than 50,000 Malawian citizens lose their lives to AIDS every year. After many years of silence, the authorities have now taken action and an ambitious programme to tackle HIV/AIDS has been launched. Until 2005, Malawi was marked by chronic food insecurity. Weather-related crop failures and only marginal increases in the price of food drive millions to the brink of starvation. Malawi is highly vulnerable to changing climate conditions and natural disasters. During 2005/2006, the government introduced a heavily criticised subsidy programme, allowing small-scale farmers to buy fertilizers at a low, subsidized price, which in turn led to a rapid increase in production.

Children are suffering due to malnutrition and exploitation

Children in our care enjoying their healthy breakfast in the garden (photo: SOS archives).
Children in our care enjoying their healthy breakfast in the garden (photo: SOS archives).
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of child labourers worldwide. In Malawi, 26 per cent of children aged five to 14 are engaged in child labour activities. While young boys typically work in the fields, girls sell merchandise or engage in commercial sex work. It is estimated that more than 78,000 children work on tobacco farms, some of them up to 12 hours per day and without adequate clothing. Tobacco pickers are exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. High levels of poverty and HIV/AIDS are the main factors that drive thousands of children into child labour. In the tobacco and tea industry, families are under constant pressure. In most cases, children coming from these families are not able to attend school because they have to work in order to support their families with the extra money they make.

In one of Africa's poorest countries, one in five children is malnourished. Although child mortality has improved substantially since the 1990s, Malawi is still marked by a fairly high under-five mortality rate of 75 per 1,000 live births. In Malawi, the risk for a child to lose parental care is comparatively high. The number of children who live without parental care or are at the brink of losing it is expected to rise in the years to come, although at a decreasing rate. At present, more than 1,000,000 children in the country are growing up without either one or both their parents, 770,000 of them because of AIDS.

SOS Children's Villages in Malawi

The work of our organisation in Malawi began in 1986. It was against the background of high levels of poverty that SOS Children's Villages decided to become active. In 1991, an agreement was signed with the government of Malawi and two years later, the local SOS Children's Villages association was officially registered. Our organisation has been running an SOS Family Strengthening Programme as a reaction to high levels of HIV/AIDS in the country. The programme enables children who are at risk of losing support and care of their family to grow up within a caring family environment. We are currently helping Malawian children in four different locations by providing day care, education, vocational training and medical assistance. Children whose families can no longer take care of them can find a loving home in one of the SOS families.
 
In early 2015 we started another emergency programme to support families affected by the storms which had caused severe damage. We assisted over 2,500 people with food, shelter, and school and hygiene materials.