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Definition of orphans

The definition of an orphan differs depending on what reference is used.

The word comes from the Greek 'orphanos' which means 'bereaved'.

Originally, it meant a child whose both parents are dead.

In today's complex society it has a wider use.  Orphan or 'social orphan' is used to refer to a child under the age of 16 who has:

             a. lost one or both of their parents;

             b. who is deprived of parental protection or advantage;

            c. who is found in a particularly vulnerable situation;

            d. or who is alone, abandoned, lost, neglected or forsaken for any reason. 

In the United States the legal term orphan is a minor bereft through 'death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents".

Another definition is a child who has been deprived of parental care and has not been adopted.

The age of a minor also varies from country to country - in some a minor is a child under 15 in other countries 16 to 18.


Moving beyond AIDs orphans

Although there are over 16.6 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, Mark Canavea, a humanitarian and activist, has called for a redefining of the term  "AIDS orphans". The term immediately labels, stigmatises and brands these children. Many studies have concluded that being an orphan is only one of factors that influence a child's well-being - they are also affected by sex, socio-economic group, level of education.

.A child affected by HIV and AIDS might be an upper-class high school kid in Cape Town, living with his mother because he lost his father to the disease years ago. He may be a young adolescent living on the streets of Odessa,  forced to engage in sex work to make ends meet and taking up drugs to cope with harsh realities. She may be a young girl in rural Mozambique or Zimbabwe, leading a quiet existence with her grandmother ever since she can remember, enjoying school.

Scholars, activists and organisations are looking at better ways to serve these children. Read more here





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