Who Are Orphans?*

Human Question MarkWe spend a lot of time talking about orphans on this blog. No surprise there, right? But who are we talking about when we say “orphans.” As I’ve said before, delving into the world of orphan care is complicated and confusing. Trying to define who orphans are is no exception. Traditionally, the word is understood to mean a child who had lost both parents through death. That’s not the definition assigned to it by people working in orphan care. According to UNICEF, an orphan is any child that has lost one or both parents to death.

You’ve probably heard that there are 153 million orphans in the world today. This is a number confirmed by UNICEF and the American government that includes both single and double orphans. While many of those 153 million children desperately need aid, some of the would resent being called orphans. For example, 40% of babies in the US are born out of wedlock. These children are included in the 153 million orphan statistic. We probably wouldn’t consider these kids orphans if we met them. However, the Bible generally uses the term “fatherless”, rather than orphan, to describe children Christians are supposed to minister to. Single orphans need to stay on the radar, but it’s important to realize that not all of the 153 million orphans are living lives of family-less deprivation.

While the 153 million orphan stat does include some kids we wouldn’t consider orphans, it also excludes some kids we would. Counting single and double orphans fails to take into account children abandoned, surrendered, or trafficked into lives of vulnerability and loneliness. Of course, there’s some overlap. Single orphans often end up fending for themselves when a poverty stricken single parent can no longer provide for them. Single and double orphans fall prey to traffickers more frequently than kids with both parents. However, many kids in orphanages, on the streets, and trapped in human trafficking have two parents. While these kids are not orphans by traditional or UNICEF definition, they’re one of the groups I think of when I talk about orphans.

So, I guess the bottom line is that the “Orphan” in “Teens Interceding for Orphans” refers to vulnerable kids around the world, regardless of how many parents they’ve lost or how they’ve lost them.

Who do you think of when you talk about orphans?

*This post was inspired by the “Who Are Orphans Really?”, chapter 4 in KnowOrphans by Rick Morton.

Leave a comment


  1. Sarah Phillips

     /  May 16, 2014

    You have just summed up exactly who I consider “orphans.” 🙂

    • I’m glad you agree, Sarah! Now the challenge is trying to figure out how to reach out to each group of “orphans”.

    • That is definitely right; many of the groups seem to need different ministry efforts to reach them. Some need their physical needs met, some need to be internationally adopted, some need to move into the foster care system, and some need to stay where they are. It depends on the situation they’re in.

  2. tween writer wright

     /  May 17, 2014

    I agree with every word, Leah.

  1. 3 Problems of International Adoption | Teens Interceding for Orphans
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