Accepted paper:

The plight of Malawian orphans: A need for expert appropriations of childhood?


Elaine Donovan (Massey University)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper explores the plight of Malawian orphans, investigates whether expert appropriations of childhood could be beneficial and considers anthropology's role in this crisis.

Paper long abstract:

The magnitude of deaths from AIDS related diseases among the most economically productive generation in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, is intensifying poverty and the consequential escalation in the number of orphans is overwhelming the usual childcare arrangements. Taking in orphaned kin places additional pressure on households that are already struggling to find enough food to satisfy their family's daily needs. The tension this creates frequently results in orphans suffering neglect and abuse. Their future potential is also compromised as they are often used for labour rather than attending school. Owing to financial limitations and under-resourced social welfare services, the Malawian government encourages local community-based orphan care projects. This bottom-up approach involves communities identifying their own problems and administering their own programmes. Not surprisingly, the majority of Malawian communities lack the resources and training for such ventures and so most orphans are left without much protection. In summary, mainly due to lack of funds rather than lack of motivation, there is no nationally co-ordinated programme of interventions and thus no attempt by the state to appropriate [or salvage] the orphans' childhood. This paper questions whether a programme of expert appropriations of childhood could benefit Malawian orphans. It reflects on the paucity of anthropological empirical research focusing on these issues and considers the future role of anthropology in addressing this significant social problem with far reaching consequences which feeds the cycle of poverty and deprivation in Malawi.

panel P05
Appropriating childhood: the current state of play