What is an Orphan and why does it matter?

What is an Orphan and why does it matter?


The internet says there are 150- 230 million orphans in the world, depending on the data used. That’s about half to three quarters of the population of the USA! If so, what ARE the criteria for an orphan? We tend to think of an orphan as one with NO parents. However that would count as a “double orphan”. A child who has lost one parent is counted as a “single orphan” but both are “Orphans” all the same.


Since the beginning of the global HIV/AIDs pandemic and the spread of the virus, any child who lost a parent to this disease may be left under the care of a parent who is also carrying the virus. This single parent will have health issues and their survival will be seriously compromised as a result. This is why the child with a single parent still gets counted as an orphan.


In some cases if the father passes away first, families may lose their ‘wage earner’. In many countries the male is seen as the ‘head of the household’ and the family’s ability to make money, pay down debt, or participate in cultural tasks is often greatly affected in a non-favorable way.


Single parent orphans are much less likely to attend school; they need to work to support the family. They could end up sold into child labor, be caught up in child-marriages, kidnapped or worse. Many live on the streets and start drinking alcohol, doing drugs or get involved in criminal activity etc.  The cycle continues to repeat itself.


So if they are taken in off the streets then what? What happens when these children are taken in and raised till they graduate, turn 18 or become considered adults? This is called “Aging Out”. It means you are done and need to leave and start your own life somewhere else. In some countries children age out at the young age of 14.


Aging out or having to forcibly leave home can be brutal. It again may lead to substance abuse, criminal activity, incarceration and living on the streets. In many countries this puts an enormous burden on the system which in many cases is already overloaded, broke and failing. Again, the cycle continues to repeat itself unless someone steps in. 


We believe it is our responsibility as part of the Church to create a path around aging out. We need to help by providing spiritual direction, mentoring, life skills training, secondary education, career guidance and possibly transitional housing so these children will have every opportunity to succeed. “Unless we help to break the cycle through sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, feed them, care for them, educate them, and get them off the streets nothing changes.


In James 1:27 we read “Religion that is pure is and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world”.


James is telling us to be spiritually intelligent and flex our servitude muscle to please God and live with integrity so we are spotless and pure. This is why it matters.