A common definition of an orphan is “a child without parents; whose parents are dead, or have abandoned the child, or had the child taken away from them.” Foster children therefore fall into the category of orphans…as do runaways and street children who no longer have contact with their parents. Whether or not to include those children whose parents are alive but unable to care for them is a complex issue.
We have found no definitive number of orphans in the world. The single greatest factor making children orphans is the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Children on the Brink is a report issued in 2002 by USAID, UNAIDS AND UNICEF. The study found that Africa has the greatest proportion of orphans: Thirty-four million in sub-Sahara Africa expected to be 42 million by 2010. Most of these, and almost 6% of all children in Africa, will be orphaned because of AIDS.
Asia, according to the report, has the largest number of orphans-65 million! Approximately 2 million of these are orphaned because of AIDS. All involved agencies and studies agree that the number of orphans will continue to rise. The need for a home and the fundamental influence of parents and family make being an orphan a personal tragedy in many cases. The vulnerability of a child without caring parents and the dysfunction of many orphanages and facilities, as well as some foster care situations, create opportunities for devastating abuse.
Personal stories such as the one told by Roger Dean Kiser, and the biography found on The Orphan Connection, relate the terrors of abandonment and abuse along with the possibilities of healing and redemption in the lives of orphans.
Topics such as Adoption, Foster Care, and Street Children relate to this topic. Be sure to check out the Resource List for this topic.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
If you are an orphan, how do people relate to your story? What was the most difficult part of growing up without your biological parents? Where and how did you find help to survive and make it in life? What particular difficulties have you had in working out your personal identity?
If you are not an orphan, whose story of this experience have you heard or read? What do you think are the most important things to know about being an orphan, and that society can do for those who lose their parents?
The issue and concerns of orphans are often overlooked by society. Once people get to hear the stories of orphans, they are likely to realize their need for special help and care. A society that does not care for its most vulnerable members cannot be considered a strong and healthy culture.
There are several references to orphans in the Bible. It teaches that true religion consists of caring for orphans and widows (James 1:27). Jesus said, ” ‘Whoever welcomes a child…in my name welcomes me.’ ” (Matthew 18:5)