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Old 08-05-2008, 09:39 AM   #1
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Orphans- UNICEF

Majority of Global "Orphans" Have Families

Ethica welcomes UNICEF's recent clarification on the number of global orphans and that the majority of these children, in fact, have one living parent or extended family to care for them. Over the years, the inclusive UNICEF definition of “orphan” has been cited by various sources as the basis for decisions on where to expend funds and create programs. For many people, the word “orphan” brings to mind children who have no parents. Therefore, we applaud UNICEF’s clarification that of the estimated 132 million orphans, about 10% or 13 million orphans have lost both parents. This distinction lends some clarity into issues impacting international adoption. Over the years, the oft quoted figure of 143 million orphans has been used to justify a lack of regulation, rebut contentions of adoption fraud, and question the significant numbers of children placed in some small countries because the prevailing myth is that all “orphans” from developing countries have no families or communities to care for them.

The rising number of cases of adoption fraud have tested this myth in countries such as Cambodia, Samoa, Vietnam, Guatemala, Haiti, and Liberia. Sadly for the families and children involved, case after case has revealed situations in which supposedly orphaned children actually have living parents or relatives who have cared for them or can care for them, and as a result, are not necessarily eligible for international adoption. In light of these findings, a continuing concern is how many children come into care and remain institutionalized, or are adopted, without attempts to preserve or reunify the family of origin. .

13 million orphans is still a vast sea of needy children, and a number which far exceeds the number of children adopted each year. But of special note is UNICEF's comment that 95% of all orphans are age 5 and over. This contrasts sharply with the demographics of adoptions to the U.S. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 2006 statistic on orphan visas granted to American families adopting children from abroad, only 3,337 of the total 20,705 children adopted that year were age 5 and older. Ethica recognizes that the majority of younger children who have been internationally adopted legally qualified as orphans under U.S. immigration law, and were recognized as orphans by their birth countries. However, these statistics indicate that babies orphaned through parental relinquishment do not constitute the majority of the orphan population. While it is true that many children who have a surviving parent may still require placement in adoptive families, these statistics also challenge the adoption community to look carefully at assumptions that current practices are based upon.

By narrowing the definition of “orphan,” we can better understand how to respond to children’s needs through support for family preservation efforts, domestic adoption alternatives, and international adoption. NGOs and social service organizations can, and should, lead the effort to assist vulnerable children in the ways that most closely meet their needs. This insight into the orphan population must lead to additional efforts in identifying orphans' true needs and creating appropriate responses. Ethica encourages NGOs, local governments, and the greater child welfare community--including first families, adoptive families, and adoptees—to cooperate and dialog on these important issues.


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