Conflicts and HIV/AIDS are generating a major humanitarian crisis for families in Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of children who have lost one or both parents is expected to rise to 35 million by 2010. The risk of orphanhood is thus no longer a random shock affecting a few families, but rather a systemic shock affecting whole communities and segments of the population. In addition, poverty and conflict also increase children's vulnerability to becoming child soldiers, street children and child laborers.
In this environment, Orphans & Vulnerable Children (OVC) could be defined as those children who are most at risk of facing increased negative outcomes compared to the "average" child in their society. Main negative outcomes include, among other things, severe malnutrition, above average rates of morbidity and mortality and lower than average rates of school attendance and completion at primary level, and in all probability, increased work burden (both paid and unpaid child labor). In addition, these children tend to be exposed to a much higher risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation, not to mention the psychological impact of witnessing and living violence and of losing a parent.
Appropriate interventions to help these children depend on the specific risks they are exposed to and on their specific needs, which will vary with their age, gender, circumstances, etc. Safety nets can play a role by helping to alleviate the poverty of households with orphaned children and ensuring a healthy nutritional status for them, as well as by encouraging and enabling these households to invest in the human capital of these children and avoid child labour. There is however a much wider range of interventions addressing the needs of OVCs which fall outside of the scope of safety nets, such as mental health programs.