2 April 2007


2 April 2007
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



With the dramatic increase in the number of grandparent caregivers around the world, the convening of the first-ever international summit on grandparents raising grandchildren would seek to create a global dialogue on the urgent need to find solutions for grandparent-headed households, correspondents were told today at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by Uganda’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Noting that the role of grandparents in caring for grandchildren had long gone unnoticed and had been mostly uncompensated, at least in monetary terms, Duncan Laki Muhumuza from Uganda’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations said the challenges facing grandparent caregivers were many, including frail health, financial constraints and the generation gap.  The upcoming summit would spotlight the unique role of grandparents in caring for their grandchildren.

The number of grandparents taking full responsibility for their grandchildren was unprecedented, mostly due to the effects of HIV/AIDS, he said.  While Uganda’s culture of the extended family meant that it was natural for grandparents to be involved in the lives of their grandchildren; today, grandchildren did not come just to visit, but to stay.  The result was a reversal of roles, with grandparents once again taking care of children.

Joining Mr. Muhumuza were Brigitte Castellano, Executive Director of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights; Beth Finkel, Manager, State Programmes and Services of AARP [formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons], New York; recording artist and grandmother Patti Page; and Maggie Lee, a grandmother from Harlem, New York, raising four grandchildren.

When parents could not parent, grandparents could, Ms. Castellano said.  The first-ever summit, entitled “Grandparents Caring for Children: A Global Challenge”, to be held from 6 to 8 May in Brooklyn, New York, was based on the premise that every child had the right to a family.  Millions of children did not live with their birth parents.  While the causes differed from country to country, the result was the same.  With families being destroyed by HIV/AIDS, disaster or conflict, grandparents were often the only source to care for their grandchildren.

Providing statistics, she noted that, in Central and Eastern Europe, more than 1.5 million children lived in out-of-home care.  In Africa, children were increasingly heading households.  In Rwanda, for example, more than 227,000 children were raising other children.  In the United States, close to 500,000 children were in foster care.  Despite such statistics, however, the General Assembly had not established guidelines or standards regarding children without parents.

Culminating in the adoption of a declaration on the rights and obligations of grandparents of parentless children, the summit would, she hoped, foster a global effort in support of grandparent caregivers.

Grandparents were heroes, both to their grandchildren and to society at large, Ms. Finkel said.  By stepping in to create a loving and stable home, grandparent caregivers were a service to society.  AARP was pleased to support the summit, which would seek to create an international dialogue on the challenges faced by grandparent caregivers around the world and from different economic backgrounds.  In the United States, some 4.5 million children were living in grandparent-headed households, representing a 30-per-cent increase from 1990 to 2000.  In New York, there were some 297,239 children living in grandparent-headed households. 

While the number was high in the United States, it did not compare to the situation in Africa, she said.  In sub-Saharan Africa, some 12 million children under the age of 17 had lost either one or both parents to AIDS.  Grandparents were left to care for their grandchildren, who might also be HIV-positive.  Unified by the desire to honour and support grandparents around the world in need of better information, resources and policies, she hoped the summit would find ways to support the unique needs of grandparent caregivers.

Describing her experience in raising two grandchildren, recording artist Patti Page said she thanked God for them.  Indeed, they had kept her young.  The alternative would not have been a good one.  She could not imagine where they would have been without her.  Now 11 and 13, she had been given custody of her grandchildren at the age of 2 and 4.  Her daughter was trying to find herself and was getting better everyday.  Providing a family life for two little people was something she was meant to do.  She, too, was grateful for the summit.

Maggie Lee, who is also the President of the Grandparents Empowerment Movement, said she had always been a caregiver, describing her experience raising four grandchildren.  Taking on four small children following the death of her daughter, she knew she needed to step up and “be mom”.  Given full custody of the children, who were now 23, 19, 18 and 17, her life had completely changed, including having to quit her job to care for the children’s physical and emotional needs.  Two of the children had been with their mother when she had been murdered.

Assuming the position of guardian had not made her eligible for money, however, meaning that six people had had to live on her husband’s income.  Two years after taking on that responsibility, her husband had become an amputee.  Two years after that, the children’s father had also been murdered, leaving her to take the children through yet another devastating death.  Noting that over 43,000 grandparents were raising grandchildren in the United States, she hoped the summit would give voice to their stories.

Asked to provide more information on the summit, Ms. Castellano said the gathering would encourage nations to work together to adopt a resolution on the situation of grandparent caregivers.  The issue first needed to be recognized and then addressed.  Another purpose of the summit was to establish an international coalition comprised of grandparents from around the world. 

What better place than the United Nations to give a unique group of caregivers the prominence they deserved, Mr. Muhumuza added.  Describing his own experience, he said he too had been raised by his grandparents, following his father’s murder by Idi Amin.  In Uganda, it was not unusual to find a 12-year-old head of household.  Grandparents, however, did not have to go through costly custody procedures.  It was natural that they step in and take care of their grandchildren.  HIV/AIDS had dealt his country a heavy blow.  Open about that problem and now on top of the matter, Uganda could share its own experience.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.