Orphan Statistics

These are the most recent and reliable statistics on the global orphan situation.

  • The most recent estimate is that there are approximately 145 million orphans in the world (UNICEF 2008). For this number, an orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents.
  • More than 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, over 11.6 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In 2007 67.5 million Children in South Asia and East Asia had lost one or both parents due to all causes.
  • Included in the 2008 estimate of 145 million orphans are more than 92 million that have a surviving mother—-with whom they most likely live.
  • Another 38 million have a surviving father.
  • The UNICEF orphan numbers DON’T include abandonment (millions of children) as well as sold and/or trafficked children.
  • The UNICEF orphan numbers DON’T include many non-reporting nations (namely, Middle Eastern Islamic nations) where shame and divorce abandonment are rampant. 200,000 + orphans in Iraq, for instance, are not part of the count.
  • We are looking at a number quite higher than 15 million “double orphans.” Best guess is somewhere around 40 or 50 million.
  • According to data released in 2003 as many as eight million boys and girls around the world live in institutional care. Some studies have found that violence in residential institutions is six times higher than violence in foster care, and that children in group care are almost four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children in family based care.
  • As of 2002 in Europe and Central Asia, over one million children lived in residential institutions.
  • Worldwide an estimated 300 million children are subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse, including the worst forms of child labour in communities, schools and institutions, during armed conflict, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage.
  • In the US there are approximately 500,000 children in foster care (Based on data submitted by states as of January 16, 2008)
  • 130,000 of those children in foster care are waiting and available for adoption. Children waiting to be adopted include children with a goal of adoption and/or whose parental rights have been terminated. Children whose parental rights have been terminated, who are 16 years old and older, and who have a goal of emancipation are excluded from the “waiting” population. An individual child is included in the count for each year that he or she has these characteristics on the last day of the year.
  • Approximately 51,000 children are adopted from the foster system each year.
  • That leaves 79,000 children annually in the US needing an adoptive family.
  • Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Several foster care alumni studies show that without a lifelong connection to a caring adult, these older youth are often left vulnerable to a host of adverse situations:

Earned a high school diploma         54%
Obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher     2%
Became a parent                 84%
Were unemployed                 51%
Had no health insurance             30%
Had been homeless                 25%
Were receiving public assistance         30%

Sources: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/trends.htm, http://www.unaids.org/en/KnowledgeCentre/HIVData/GlobalReport/2008/2008_Global_report.asp, http://www.unicef.org/sowc09/docs/SOWC09-FullReport-EN.pdf, Young adults ages 18-24 years old 2.5 to 4 years after leaving foster care: Cook, R. (1992). Are we helping foster care youth prepare for the future? Children and Youth Services Review. 16(3/4), 213-229. Cook, R.; Fleishman, E., & Grimes, V. (1989). A National Evaluation of Title IV-E Foster Care Independent Living Programs for Youth (Phase 2 Final Report, Volume 1). Rockville: Westat, Inc., http://chrisitianallianceblog.org/?p=74, http://abandoned-orphaned.typepad.com/paulmyhill/2009/08/the-count.html

I list these statistics with a broken heart and realization that each number represents a real, living child who is in desperate need of care and a family. We can become easily overwhelmed with these statistics but I pray for my self and for the church that they would lead us to pray more specifically and passionately for them. I pray they will move us to act with greater urgency to see each one of these children cared for in the name of Christ.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

22 thoughts on “Orphan Statistics

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  2. Thanks, Jason.

    Staggering numbers that seem overwhelming when looked as a whole. My prayer is that the local church would look at each of them individually and say “what can I do for you, little girl, little boy.”

    Thanks for being a great resource and encouragement to the local church, at least this one in Austin, Texas.


  3. Amen to Bruces comment – if it is one, eight or even more orphans we embrace into our families – we know that each of them is a person created in God’s image. And the ones we can’t bring home we can pray over, financially support and seek justice in their lives.

  4. Jason;

    Oh if only the Church would WAKE up…if only each of us would boldly come to God and say, “Lord, what can I do for your orphans?”

    And, I am angry that abandoned children aren’t counted as orphans. Really? If you don’t have parents who care for you, who abandon you and you are left either on the street or in an orphanage, hmmm in my book you are definitely an orphan. I wonder how they came up with abandonment doesn’t equal an orphan equation.

    The word double orphan made my heart ache. Oh how I wish I were contagious…that everyone that my family came in contact with would *catch* the Spirit of Adoption. (and those who touched your family too!)
    Holy Spirit we need You…come for the many, too many orphans of this world. Let them come into Christian homes where they can grow in grace and knowledge of You. What a mighty beautiful army that will be.

    Oh Lord, send your Spirit and please, please wake up your Church to the orphans. In Jesus’ name I pray. amen.

    mama to 7 (*soon 8)
    one homemade and 6 adopted (*soon 7 adopted)

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  13. I’m not sure why you’re counting kids as orphans if such a large number have a surviving parent, especially if, in the cases of those who live with their mother, they’ve clearly not been abandoned or placed in institutionalized/foster care?
    To say a child with one or more surviving parents is orphaned and needs to be adopted, presumably by an American Protestant family, is insulting and ignorant at best, manufacturing orphans to meet Western infertiles’ baby desires at worst.
    My husband and I have discussed the idea of adopting down the road; should we do that, we would absolutely insist on a child who was legitimately orphaned or abandoned.

    • Coffee Lady,
      I agree with your prospective in regard to counting a child as an orphan if one parent is deceased. In my opinion, a child is not an orphan unless both parents are deceased. Obviously that child is more vulnerable, statistically speaking.

      I wholly disagree with your statement regarding American Protestant family. A child can not be adopted internationally unless the child is abandoned or orphaned by both parents in the USA.

    • There are many children in the world who have been abandoned by a surviving parent and are orphans. My wife and I have adopted from West Africa, and many children are taken to an orphanage and dropped off because the parent can’t care for the children that they have. In my opinion, these abandoned children are true orphans.

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