Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Misrepresenting the World's Orphan Crisis

In June 2010, I wrote this.

One of my pet peeves is statistics given for shock value without any kind of context. I recently found an interesting explanation of UNICEF's statistics on the world's orphans.

From The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism:

UNICEF’s statement that there are 163 million orphans worldwide has been widely misinterpreted as meaning that 163 million children are in need of new adoptive families. Many Westerners imagine that a significant number of these adoptable children are healthy infants and toddlers.

But it’s not so. UNICEF’s statistic includes what it calls “single orphans”—children who have lost one parent. As of 2007, roughly 18.5 million of these “orphans” had lost both parents. That is, of course, still a heartbreakingly large number. However, most of those are living with extended family, and are not in need of adoption, or are older than five, sick, or disabled in some way. As UNICEF’s statement below puts it, “Evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent, grandparent, or other family member.  95% of all orphans are over the age of five.”

There are still several million children who've lost both parents and have no family member to care for them.  There is still an "orphan crisis" for these kids.  So does it really matter that instead of 163 million, as is so often quoted, it's only a few million?  Is it really a big deal if we get the number way wrong?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.


  1. Hi Dana, I've read several of the blogs/posts about this over the past few days. I think it matters b/c we have to be honest about what the reality is--the reality is that there are still MILLIONS of children who need adopting but the reality is also that there are MILLIONS of children who can be helped in so many other ways. I've been praying for a long time about what I am supposed to do next for orphans and right now that is not another adoption. Shedding light on the accurate number can help put the focus on other areas as well. We have such a long way to go but the fact that more and more people are talking about these issues is still progress. Thank you for encouraging the dialogue.

    1. I agree, Cindy, that correct figures make the solution clearer. The "single orphans" who are still living with one surviving parent don't need adopting, but they may need other things like food, clean water and health care.

  2. It shouldn't matter if it's "only" one million orphaned children. Any child of any age without family or a support system is one too many. I wish that there was more compassion in this world, and trying to downplay those needs is disturbing.

    1. I agree that even one child without a family is one too many. And there is not just one, there are millions.

      But for me, I don't think calling for correct information is the same as downplaying the need. For years, I really thought that there were 163 million kids waiting to be adopted, until I dug a little deeper.

      I think understanding the truth behind the numbers opens the doors for Christians, to not only adopt, but to also help in ways that will enable those one-parent families to stay together.

  3. I think the numbers are important. If people want to help, but think the only way to help is adoption and that is not something they can do right now for whatever reason, they may do nothing at all. If they had more accurate information on the real needs, they may find a way to meet another need other than adoption. The truth is, there are lots of children in need, some need adoption, some need physical and educational needs met, and some may just need another adult figure to be involved as a mentor/friend. There are lots of ways to give and help, but if the numbers tell us of only one need, many will do nothing.

  4. Yes, and no...Yes, it matters b/c if they are off that far in one direction, how do we know they got any of their numbers correct?

    No...because do you know how many a million is? Have you ever seen a 100 million of anything at once?
    I don't think I have.


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