‘Young carers’ are children who take on adult responsibility in response to familial illness. South Africa’s high disease burden, limited health care capacity and cultural notions of children’s familial duty suggest a large population of ‘young carers’ in this country. This study aims to explore the nature of responsibility among children affected by illness in deprived South African communities. A total of 349 children and adolescents aged 10–18 years in illness-affected households in the Western Cape province were recruited via community- and school-based convenience sampling. Data about their daily life, responsibilities and the impact of familial illness were collected via semi-structured interviews. Caring tasks involving intimate contact and medical treatments were relatively common among children in the sample, and nearly all children were engaged in some type of responsibility, from caring tasks to housework, childcare and earning money. Children frequently indicated their responsibilities constituted a substantial burden. Responses suggested a tension between duty to care and appropriateness of intimate contact between parents and children required for some caring responsibilities. Children often linked their tasks burden to familial illness, though further quantitative research is needed to identify the drivers of child responsibility.
- child caregivers
- orphaned and vulnerable children
- young carers