Maternal AIDS Orphans and the Burden of Parenting in Youth-headed Households; Implications for Food Security in Impoverished Areas of South Africa

Ephodia Sebola1, Busisiwe Ntuli1, *, Sphiwe Madiba1
1 Department of Public Health, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria, South Africa

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© 2020 Sebola et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Public Health, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University. Pretoria, P O Box 215 Medunsa 0204, South Africa; Tel: +27 12 521 5033; E-mail:


The increasing number of AIDS orphans has led to an increase in child and youth headed households. Adjusting to the parenting role with no support from their extended family is a source of distress for orphans heading households. This study explored the parenting experiences of orphaned youth heading households in resource constraints environments.


The participants were purposely selected from Youth-Headed Households (YHHs) located in informal settlements in the City of Tshwane, South Africa. The data analysis was inductive and followed the thematic approach.


Thirteen females and five males aged between 15-24 years were interviewed. The phenomenon of YHHs occured in impoverished informal settlements partly due to orphans being forcefully removed from their parents’ homes after the death of their mothers. The household heads felt morally obliged to care for their siblings, experienced parenting as burdensome, and the role adjustment from being a child to a parent difficult and demanding. The inability to provide adequate food to feed their siblings was a source of emotional stress. In an attempt to fulfil their parenting roles, they dropped out of school to find employment.


Although the child support and foster grant are widely recognised for improving children's access to food, education, and basic services in South Africa, the lack thereof contributed to the economic hardships and vulnerability to food insecurity and hunger among orphans in YHHs. There is a need for multi-sectoral interventions to address food insecurity and, in so doing, improve the psychosocial wellbeing of orphans in YHHs.

Keywords: South Africa, Youth-headed households, Orphans, HIVAIDS, Parenting role, Social support grants, Food security.