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).