Experiences of adolescents who lost a parent to aids in the Western Cape, South Africa: a qualitative study

  • Nomsa Winniefred Somsetsu University of the Western Cape
  • Charlene Erasmus University of the Western Cape
  • Nomvuyo Lukelelo University of the Western Cape
  • Nicolette Vanessa Roman University of the Western Cape



Background: AIDS related deaths of parents have resulted in large numbers of children being orphaned. Adolescence, a particularly vulnerable period in a child’s developmental life is characterised by uncertainties, role confusion and identity crises. This stage becomes even more complex when adolescents lose their parents through AIDS. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of adolescents who have lost their parents through AIDS.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 8 adolescents between 14-17 years old who had lost a parent to AIDS. A thematic analysis of the transcripts was performed.

Results: Some of these adolescents had to grow up quickly, so as to engage in parental roles before they were of appropriate age. The participants had to endure multiple stresses. The maternal grandparents were seen as the most suitable support compared to the paternal grandparents.

Conclusions: When placing these children into foster care it is important to consider close relatives or members of the community that these children are familiar with. Trauma counselling should be afforded to adolescents who lost their parents due to AIDS. Interventions are urgently needed that are suitable to the local context and that address bereavement as well as other issues that affect the day-to-day lives of these adolescents. Additional studies are needed to identify factors that promote resilience among these adolescents and the role of paternal family in caring for adolescent orphans.

Keywords: Adolescents, care-giving experiences, HIV/AIDS, orphans, South Africa, Qualitative methodology, thematic analysis, socio-cultural effects

Author Biographies

Nomsa Winniefred Somsetsu, University of the Western Cape
Department of Social Work, University of the Western Cape
Charlene Erasmus, University of the Western Cape

Department of Social Work, Child and Family Studies Unit, University of the Western Cape

Nomvuyo Lukelelo, University of the Western Cape

Department of Social Work, University of the Western Cape

Nicolette Vanessa Roman, University of the Western Cape

Department of Social Work, Child and Family Studies Unit, University of the Western Cape


Deacon, H., & Stephney, I. (2007). HIV/AIDS, stigma and children: A literature review. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

de Witt, M., & Lessing, A. (2010). the psychosocial well-being of orphans in Southern Africa: the perceptions of orphans and teachers. The Journal of Transdiciplinary Research in Southern Africa, 6(2), 461-477.

Foster, G. & German, S. 2002. The orphan crisis, in: M. Essex, S. Mboup P. Kanki R. Marlink and S. Tlou (eds.): AIDS in Africa. New York: Academic/ Plenum Publishers. pp.664-675.

Ishikawa, N., Pridmore, P., Carr-Hill, R., & Chaimuangdee, K. (2010). Breaking down the wall of silence around children affected by AIDS in Thailand to support their psychosocial health. AIDS Care, 22(3), 308-313.

Lalthapersad-Pillay, P. (2008). The Orphan Problem in Selected African Countries. African Insight, 37(3), 148-159.

Li, X., Naar-King, S., Barnett, D., Stanton, B., Fang, X. & Thurston, C. 2008. A Developmental Psychopathology framework of the psychosocial needs of children orphaned by HIV. Journal of the Association of Nurses AIDS Care 19: 147–157.

Osborn, K. 2007. Adolescents: Missing from Programs for the World’s Orphans and

Vulnerable Children. Available at http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/441?tsak=view. (Accessed 22 October 2014).

Richter, L. 2004. Generation at risk? HIV and AIDS, vulnerable children and security in

Southern Africa. In: Pharaoh, R. (ed.) The Impact of HIV and AIDS on the Development of Children. Monograph No. 109, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa.

Schönteich, M. 2000. Age and AIDS: South Africa’s time bomb. [Online] Available at:

http://www.iss.co.za/PUBS/ASR/8nov4/schonteich.html. (Accessed 22October 2014).

Smart, R. 2000. Children living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. A Rapid Appraisal. A

NACTT Project. Save the children

Smart, R. 2003. Policies for orphan and vulnerable children: A framework for moving

ahead. Policy project, USAID. Washington DC.

Statistics South Africa. (2013). "Mid- year Population Estimates 2013", www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0302/P03022013.pdf

Steffenson, E.A. 2002. South African youth’s knowledge, attitudes and practices:

Potential implications for the AIDS epidemic. http://www.kff.org/.

Thupayagale-Tshweneagae, G., Wright, S.D., & Hoffmann, W.A. 2010. Mental health challenges of the lived experiences of adolescents orphaned by HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Journal of AIDS and HIV Research 2: 8–16.

Thupayagale-Tshweneagae, G. & Mokomane, Z. 2013. Needs of South African adolescents orphaned by AIDS: evidence from photography and photo-elicitation. International Nursing Review 60: 88–95.

UNAIDS. 2013. UNAIDS report on the global AIDS Epidemic. Geneva, Switzerland: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

UNAIDS: 2010. Global report on the AIDS epidemic. Geneva: UNAIDS.

UNAIDS, (2000). A matter of life and death. South African Journal, 4(12), 3. Robertson AIDS Action Group.

UNICEF, UNAIDS / WHO. 2002. Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis. UNICEF, New York.

Van Dyk, A. 2008. HIV/AIDS Care and Counseling. A multidisciplinary approach 4th edition. South Africa: Pearson Education.

Van der Heijden, I. & Swartz, S. 2010. Bereavement, silence and culture within a peer-led HIV/AIDS-prevention strategy for vulnerable children in South Africa. African Journal of AIDS Research 9: 41–50.

Weissman, M.M,, Orvaschel, H. & Padian, N. 2008. Children’s symptom and social functioning self-report scales: Comparison of mothers’ and children’s reports. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 168: 736–740.