How Many Orphans Are There in the World?

More and more I hear people talking about the millions of orphans that are alive today in the world. I’m thankful for this because most people don’t realize the magnitude of the problem of orphaned and abandoned children.

That said, I think it is also important for us to know what we mean when we throw out statistics. First, as Christians we need to know what we mean because we have been divinely called by God to care for these children. Secondly, we need to know what we mean so we can give care in the most effective way possible.

The latest UNICEF numbers for 2008 indicate that there are an estimated 132 million orphans (the 2006 estimate was 143 million).

UNICEF and global partners define an “orphan” as a child who has lost one or both parents.

Therefore, of the 132 million children they classify as orphans, only 13 million have lost both parents. The majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent, grandparent, or other family member. 95% of all orphans are over the age of 5.

This is crucial for us to understand because as UNICEF writes, “it can have concrete implications for policies and programming for children. For example, UNICEF’s ‘orphan’ statistic might be interpreted to mean that globally there are 132 million children in need of a new family, shelter, or care. This misunderstanding may then lead to responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support” (UNICEF Press Release).

The more I think this over, the more I can’t help but feel this has huge implications on the way we approach our calling to “visit orphans in their afflictions” (James 1:27).

30 thoughts on “How Many Orphans Are There in the World?

  1. Pingback: How Many Orphans Are There in the World? « Spirit of Adoption

  2. You should also bear in mind that the official numbers are often misleading. In Kenya, where I work with orphans, officialy we have one and a half million orphans, but I believe there must be much more. Plus those who have lost a mother, the majority of the time the father does not care for them, so the fact that they still have a living parent does not impact them all that much. Grandparents very often cannot care for the children due to age or more likely financial issues.

    Best thing is if you come across a child who is not being loved, then love that child. The specifics are not all that important at that moment.

    Numbers are huge, especially when discussing orphans. Put aside the numbers, the plans, the committees, and actually start caring for a lonely child.

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  12. I know I’m like six months late with this thread, but I just saw it for the first time.

    I really appreciated what Johnny said. I have worked with orphans in Russia, and more recently Central Asia, for much of the past 13 years. Often there are children abandoned to orphanages who have both parents living, but the home situation is such that the child can not remain in the home, even if it is just because the parent doesn’t want the hassle. Many of the children in former soviet countries who reside in orphanages are not up for adoption, but they are in great need of love and, most importantly, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    • Rachel,

      Thank you for your comment and sharing your perspective. It is so true that adoption is only one part of the solution and the largest percentage of children who are orphans will never be adopted but need care and the gospel most of all. Thank you for all you are doing for these children!

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  14. This is why I want to adopt. Having your own child is a beautiful thing, but saving the life of an orphan who needs love and a good home is even more beautiful; especially knowing that this child won’t grow up on the streets in a slum somewhere.

    If only many people thought about adopting, this world would be a better place.

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  16. thank you, it is a good renider to all of us, so we would remember how much this worl needs Jesus and how it needs the ones who will say: “Here am I, send me.”

  17. I am a 1st born in family of 8 and we’ve lost both of our parents, now 6 of my brothers and sister requires school fees and other basic neccessities worth $5,000. Please assist because we are in dire need. Thanks and may God bless you

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  19. The Lord has called me to work with orphans and i have a great desire to do so ! but right now i am 16 and senior, and i want to help serve as soon as i can ! do u know of any classes or programs i go to to help me learn and help ! i dont know of anything local and i cant seem to find anything, what would u recommend for after i graduate, collage? university? classes? degrees? programs? maybe a place to go and help ?

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  21. Please cite your sources. Your facts come from UNICEF’s website directly, accessible here:

    UNICEF is not trying to be deceptive, but your post makes it feel that way (to me). Please also note that the numbers your provided (and they provided) are for “sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean” only.

    I know you aren’t trying to downplay the importance of adoption – after all, your organization is a great one for the cause. I just wanted to clarify.

  22. This really touches me. As a victim of being familyless from the first second I was born. Having seen and feel the pain with my two other brothers, makes me despair that there are millions of kids going through this too. But I feel better now that I know there is people out the that really care for them and try to find them a home. Thank you for writing this article

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