Pietermaritzburg is the capital of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and has over 600,000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, the heritage of apartheid is still very much felt in the city.
The standard of living here is very low. Many people are unemployed and live in poverty. For many children, this means growing up in dangerous conditions, not having enough to eat and no access to education. In addition, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a major health threat in the region.
Since 1996, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children, young people and families and advocating for their rights in Pietermaritzburg.
In Pietermaritzburg, the remains of apartheid are still very tangible. It has been argued that living conditions for the disadvantaged – women and children in particular – have even declined since the official end of apartheid in 1994. While efforts to resolve the problems inherited from the regime are ongoing, diseases like tuberculosis and diarrhoea have been on the rise and life expectancy has declined for the majority of people in the area. In fact than 50% of the local population lives in poverty. Many have never had a decent job and have little hope of ever obtaining one. Poverty makes families here incredibly vulnerable and often means that children do not have any access to education or health care.
HIV/AIDS remains a major challenge throughout South Africa, but in Pietermaritzburg the situation is particularly severe. A large number of children have lost parental care or are at risk of losing it due to the disease. When a parent falls ill, they lose their ability to work and therefore to provide for their family. Many children have to earn a living in some way and take on the responsibility of caring for their sick parents and siblings. In doing so, they often sacrifice their education. Children in Pietermaritzburg who have lost the care of their parents are also at risk of being recruited for child labour or commercial sexual exploitation.