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Who are the orphan children who need families?

There is a silent global epidemic - that of millions of little children growing up without the love and protection of parents. The latest estimates give the number as 163 million. That is more than the entire populations Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, London, Moscow and Bangkok put together.


Since this film was made two years ago the number of children growing up with parental care has increased by 20 million, that is by half the population of this country.


In Zimbabwe one in five children have no living parents; Russia has over 700 000 children in orphanges; and 65 million Asian children will never sit on the lap of a mother or father. Due to the horrific ravages of AIDS a whole generation has been wiped out in Africa and children as young as ten are totally responsible for their younger siblings. China has over 1000 massive orphanages across the country and 20% of Ukrainian orphans will be dead before they are 21.


There is no easy way to talk about the situation of orphans in the world today. The numbers speak for themselves and they are horrendous and incomprehensible.


By the time you read to the end of this sentence another child has become an orphan...


...and three children would have ‘aged out’ of the institution that has been caring for them for the last 16 years. Still a teenager, alone and ill-equipped to deal with adult life, they will join the other 38 thousand other aging out children today who in all likelihood will end up living on the streets.


And when you close your eyes tonight there will be almost 6000 more children who have lost one or both of their parents.


20 000 more Russian children in care than during The Second World War;  11 million more orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa then estimated only 3 years ago - totalling 53.1 million. Only 5010 orphanages in the Indian region of Andhra Pradesh.


Reliable figures and statistics are difficult to find and official numbers are often understated.  China claims it only has 100 thousand orphans, unlikely for its total population of 1.2 billion.  Often numbers are only estimates and they very rarely include those that are 'invisible' the millions of children who live on the street.  Even if these figures are grossly exaggerated, it is still an unacceptable tragedy that any children should today grow into adult hood with no one to belong to and no place to call home.    

These numbers are mind-boggling especially when  one considers the controversy of inter-country adoption.


So who are these poor children?



And what happens to them?


Once a child looses his parental care he or she usually comes under the guardianship of extended family, charitable organisations or the state. These organisations care for these children by placing them in orphanages, foster care, children's homes, care centres, or through adoption.


To get an idea and for a full and comprehensive list of orphanages in the world, look at the website


orphanages cannot look after children forever and they usually have a cut off period usually 15 or 16 when the children 'age out' of the system. They are given, if they are lucky, a half way house and some funds and hopefully an educational future. For others, not so fortunate, will find that the doors are opened and they are expected to fend for themselves.  In Russia orphans are considered 'defective', a stigma that they will carry throughout their life as their documents are marked and they are often refused the opportunity to find gainful employment. Gangs, prostitution and theft become their new life as they try to survive on the streets.  A sad and horrific future.


Health of the children


This is one of the main questions that concern people. Without proper care and with early detrimental neglect, how healthy are these children? There are so many children and there are so many issues that they might or might not face, it is a little of the 'how long is a piece of string ' question!


There are two facets to the health of orphaned children - their physical and mental health. 


Obviously the children who find themselves without parental care have been neglected, they have not been adequately looked after, prenatal care was poor and  they probably have never had three square meals in a day.  They are often smaller than their birth contemporaries and are subjected to mother-child inherited illness such as HIV or Hep C or Foetal Alcohol Effects.  Being in an institution they have probably caught every illness that there is, which in some cases means they have built up a strong immunity.  My son is one example, touch wood, he has an amazingly strong constitution and apart from a 24 hour vomiting bug he has never been sick.


In some countries they have very comprehensive records of the child's health.  In Orphanage No. 16 the files for each child was about three inches deep.  They had twelve doctors who spent their time poking and prodding, listening and measuring, so we know of every burp or slight raise in temperature experienced. Others will not have any medical records. Again in Russia, they had good pre natal records of the mother and quite a bit of her history.


Of course there is a certain amount of risk with inter-country adoption, or in fact any adoption. And one needs to minimize this risk by learning as much as one can about the medical conditions of the children.


On the mental, behavioural, emotional and social side, institutional children do not have the early stimulation that they need for normal development, so there is some delay. The experts calculate that for every three months a child is in an orphanage, they are 1 month behind developmentally. This institutional delay though is temporary. Once children are home they 'catch up' within the first few months and after about 6 months home they are on target developmentally with all areas. So it is perfectly normal for a fifteen month old child to be displaying behaviour of a year old child.  With simulation, fresh air , love and freedom they soon catch up.


All adopted children may or may not experience attachment issues. New research in medical science has focused on the brain and this research has shown that in the formative years, without love and attention, part of the brain does not develop in the same way as those who are securely attached.  This may raise some behavioural issues with some children, such as RAD (Radical Attachment Disorder) or sensory integration issues, but  most of these are surmountable, with careful parenting, professional help and support.


If you do your homework, are careful, check the children by an International Adoption medical specialist, then you have an exceptionally high chance of adopting a very healthy and mentally fit child.





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