Journal Article

Infants and young children living in youth-headed households in Rwanda: Implications of emerging data

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has already produced millions of orphans in Africa, and the peak of the orphan epidemic has not yet been reached. One emerging social trend associated with premature parental death is the formation of households headed by youth aged 13–24. In Rwanda, specific sociocultural factors have supported the formation of youth-headed households (YHH) in the wake of both the 1994 genocide and the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. There is no published data on the health and socioemotional functioning of children under 5 living in YHH. Survey data from 692 YHH in one region of Rwanda yielded a subsample of 89 homes which contained one or more children under 5 (n=104). These data reveal that a majority of young children living in YHHs is in fair or poor health. Heads of household themselves report high levels of depressive symptoms and social isolation; reports of emotional distress among the youngest children in the homes are associated with reports of higher symptomatology among heads of household. Findings are interpreted in light of the sociocultural context of Rwanda and the implications of the data for intervention are considered.