Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Caring Responsibilities, Change and Transitions in Young People's Family Lives in Zambia 1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Caring Responsibilities, Change and Transitions in Young People's Family Lives in Zambia 1

Article excerpt


Despite diversity in family dynamics within and between societies, globally, it is adults who are usually relied upon to care for family members who are sick, disabled or have other care needs (Evans and Becker, 2009). Family relationships in eastern and southern Africa are built upon notions of reciprocal responsibilities to provide care and support for the young and older generations according to an implicit 'generational bargain' (Collard, 2000). These intergenerational familial responsibilities may be disrupted or come under pressure when illhealth or death affects the 'middle generation.'

An estimated 15 per cent of the global population is living with a disability (WHO, 2011), 80 per cent of whom live in the global South, where resources to support them are very limited (UN, 2011). The HIV epidemic in eastern and southern Africa has had major impacts on families and communities over the past three decades, as they struggle to care for large numbers of people with a highly stigmatised, chronic, life-limiting illness, with very limited public social protection or formal care services and inadequate healthcare resources (Evans and Atim, 2011). Within this context, young people may be called on to provide sometimes substantial care for older, middle and/or younger generations at a much younger age than would normally be expected (Evans, in press).

In a globally interdependent world, increasing emphasis is placed on educational outcomes (Ansell, 2004; Kabeer, 2000). Young people in Zambia and elsewhere are under pressure to obtain a good education and employment to support their families, and make 'successful' transitions to 'adulthood,' whilst in some instances, also having to cope with the loss of parents and care for relatives with little external support. This paper draws on recent literature on youth transitions, young caregiving and family change and empirical research to explore the relational life transitions of young people in Zambia, some of whom cared for chronically sick or disabled parents or relatives.

A growing literature has revealed the substantial regular care work that young people may undertake for family members affected by HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa (Evans and Becker, 2009; Robson, 2004; Robson et al., 2006; Skovdal, 2011). The role of older youth has been neglected to some extent in discussions of care-giving, despite evidence from the global North which suggests that 'young adults' (aged 18-24) are more likely than children to undertake informal care work within the family. On the basis of Census 2001 data, Evans and Becker (2009) note that an estimated 5.3 per cent of the population of all 18-24 year olds in the UK are regularly involved in care work. This compares to 2.1 per cent of the population of children aged under 18 years who are involved in care work. Very little statistical evidence is available about the extent of older youth's involvement in care work in Sub-Saharan Africa, but taking into account the context of very limited welfare support in many African countries, the figures from the UK, USA and Australia suggest that over four per cent of children and youth may be regularly involved in caring for family and community members who have a need for care related to illness, disability, young or old age in SubSaharan Africa (Evans, 2010). Research on young caregiving in the global North has drawn attention to the negative (and sometimes positive) outcomes that caring for a parent (or relative) with a disability or chronic illness may have on youth people's transitions to ?independent adulthood' (Evans and Becker, 2009). Few studies to date, however, have explored how care-giving may impact on older youth's lifecourse transitions and imagined futures in the global South (Evans, 2012).

Recent research on youth transitions focuses on how young people negotiate their pathways to 'adulthood' across time and space (Punch, 2002; Worth 2009; Wyn and White, 1997). …

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