There is growing debate about the situations of children who care for a relative with HIV-related illness, especially in developing countries with high HIV prevalence. In particular, there is inadequate information on the long-term consequences of children taking on this caregiving role. The article reanalyses data collected between January and November 2006 in a rural setting in western Kenya where 19 children caring for a total of 15 people living with HIV or AIDS (PLHIV) participated. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, participant observation, focus group discussions and narratives. The findings show that children regularly become involved in caregiving due to lack of a responsible adult to perform the role, which may be as a result of HIV stigma and rejection of the care recipient by extended family members and neighbours or because of cultural barriers. Fulfilling the responsibilities of caregiving had profound repercussions for the children's lives, including psychological distress, physical burden, dropping out of school, participation in wage labour, and forced early marriage. Financial needs pushed some girls into transactional sexual relations, predisposing them to the risks of unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Since the children providing care for PLHIV are themselves vulnerable, we recommend that they should be targeted with support.
Keywords: carers; families; home-based care; qualitative research; resource-poor settings; social aspects; sub-Saharan Africa.