The article begins with an overview of the socio-economic context surrounding child-headed households and then discusses the constitutional obligations that rest on the state vis-a-vis children growing up in these settings. Considering the scope of the state's obligation where the parents of children below the age of 18 are deceased or unable to render parental care as well as the emerging constitutional recognition of the right to family life, it is concluded that the state must ensure that children living in child-headed households are integrated into some form of family environment.

Against this background the state's articulated policy on the situation of child-headed households is examined and its reasonableness is assessed. Noting various shortcoming in the policy, it is suggested that failure of the government's HIV/AlDS programmes to prioritise emergency relief would constitute a contravention of the Grootboom principles. The constitutional rights of children living in child-headed households are thus not adequately protected by the existing policy framework.

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