Over the past 30 years, the world has generally become a better place. Levels of poverty worldwide have decreased, healthcare has advanced, life expectancy has increased and people are generally happier, but there’s one issue that has struggled to keep up with the positive trends, and that’s orphanism.
The definition of orphanism is the state of being an orphan, and that refers to a child under the age of 18 who’s parent(s) have died regardless of the cause. UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 140 million orphans around the world; that’s six million less than in 1990. Given the leaps and bounds that have been made elsewhere, such as reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty from 1.92 billion in 1990 to 1.01 billion in 2010, why has the progress in reducing the number of orphans been so slow, and is it getting worse?
The first thing to look at is world population. The population of the world is always growing, and since 1990, the world has seen a population increase of 2.6 billion people.
You would be forgiven for thinking that as the population of the world increases, so too will the number of orphans as more children are born, but that’s not the case because the increase in population isn’t actually down to more children being born. In fact, due to better healthcare and a better quality of life, people are living longer and the majority of the population are actually of a working age and elderly. This means an increase in the world population doesn’t equate to a higher number of orphans.
Causes of Orphanism
The number of orphans has fluctuated throughout the years, with a peak in the year 2000 as the number of orphans worldwide reached 155 million. At the turn of the millennium, the AIDS epidemic was well underway. In 1995, AIDS was the leading cause of death for people aged 25-44 in America. As well as in the USA, AIDS was spreading around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. By 2003, it was spreading rapidly across Africa, especially South Africa. This no doubt will have had an impact on the number of children who were orphaned as a result of their parents dying from AIDS at the turn of the millennium year.
The number or orphans has been in decl ine since 2000 thanks to vast improvements in healthcare, but it could rise again as a result of factors aside from disease and infection.
It is thought that in 2018, over 100,00 people lost their lives in armed clashes around the world, leaving many children without parents. The civil war in Syria displaced over nine million children and caused them to lose their homes or families, with official estimates pointing towards one million Syrian children being orphaned as a direct result of the war, although the actual figure is not known.
As well as war disease and war, natural disasters are a leading cause of orphanism. In 2010, the Caribbean island of Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that destroyed large swathes of the island and killed more than 250,000 people. Prior to the earthquake, there were roughly 380,000 orphans in Haiti. After the earthquake, that figure shot up to around the one million mark.
Natural disasters are becoming increasingly common as a result of climate change, and that means we’re likely to see more children displaced or without parents as a result of weather-based disasters.
On top of this, deadly pandemics such as the recent COVID-19 outbreak have decimated already impoverished areas – such as Haiti and Syria who have already been affected by conflict and natural disasters – because of a lack of infrastructure, government leadership and access to life-saving healthcare.
These are unpredictable factors which will affect the numbers of orphans worldwide and cause peaks that would’ve otherwise not happened.
Is Orphanism Getting Worse?
In 2020 there were over 2.3 million more births than in 1990 and there were less orphans which indicates that orphanism is slowly getting better, despite spikes throughout the years. Advances in healthcare, lower rates of infant/mother mortality and better living conditions mean less parents are leaving their children behind. Provided nations remain stable in terms of conflict and continue to develop their infrastructure, as well as being committed to getting climate change under control and taking into account the ageing population, the numbers should continue to decrease.
Orphans in current times have better resources to flourish thanks to comprehensive orphan sponsorship programs, making the outlook less bleak for children who do fall on tough times without familial support.
Although there are lots of negatives in the world, one good takeaway is the leaps being made in terms of tackling poverty, disease and as a consequence, orphanism.