With 150 million orphaned and abandoned children worldwide, understanding how to protect and care for these children is essential. They are our future just as all children are. I cannot fathom how these children survive after the atrocities they’ve witnessed or been subjected to. It is our moral duty to ensure that they are afforded every opportunity to grow up healthy both in mind and body. With this post, I hope to increase recognition of this dire human rights issue.
- In Central and Eastern Europe alone, almost 1.5 million children live in public care
- In Russia, the annual number of ‘children left without parental care’ has more than doubled over the last 10 years, despite falling birth rates.
- Conflict has orphaned or separated 1 million children from their families in the 1990s.
- An estimated two to five per cent of the refugee population are unaccompanied children.
- An estimated 143 million children are orphaned by one or both parents.
- In 12 African countries, projections show that orphans will comprise at least 15 per cent of all children under 15 years of age by 2010. (current numbers are unavailable)
The Journal of Traumatic Stress published an article this week entitled: More than the loss of a parent: Potentially traumatic events among orphaned and abandoned children.
The authors studied more than 1,200 orphaned and abandoned children across five low- and middle-income countries quantifying the types of events these children experienced and demonstrating that anxiety and emotional/behavioral difficulties increase with additional exposure.
The article concludes that as policies for orphaned and abandoned children are being implemented (more of which we must develop without delay), policy makers and care providers recognize that:
- children and caregivers are willing to report experiences of potentially traumatic events,
- those who report such events are at higher risk for experiencing additional events,
- resulting symptomatology indicates a need for appropriate mental health services, and
- boys are as vulnerable as girls, indicating an equal need for protection.
In 2006, between my first and second year of law school, I visited an orphanage in Mostar, Bosnia. I know nothing of the language (Srpsky) and could not find a travel book or information on Mostar or really any region of Bosnia. I had no idea what to expect. At the orphanage lived more than 40 children from the age of about 4 to 16. I do not know their individual stories, yet I am sure that many of them needed mental health services. One afternoon, I was asked to watch the smallest children over nap time. Of course, the kids as kids do, did not want to nap. And in checking in on one of the rooms, a boy came after to hit me. All I could think about was what this child must have seen or experienced to create such anger. Maybe it was just a child acting out, but I suspect it was more. Another night, I was asked to put the the children to bed. (Any parent will know how difficult it can be to get a child to calm down for bedtime.) Yet we can read books to our children, sing them soothing songs, and tuck them in tightly and give a kiss goodnight. These children do not get that. As I left, I wondered how these children will fair as they grow – lacking some of the basic love we show our children and without social or mental health services to help them grow up healthy.
So few solutions exist for these children at this time. We can donate to UNICEF or other aid organizations who are working to help these children. We can keep abreast of the issues and remember them when we think of all children orphaned because of AIDS or other illnesses, poverty, and conflict in war-torn countries such as Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sudan, Israel, the Ivory Coast, and so many other nations. And in so remembering them, we can find solutions to help them, protect them, keep them healthy, and let them know they are loved.
For more information for this and other issues affecting children:
And two good reads:
- For Every Child – The Rights of the Child in Words and Pictures (you might have to find this one used)
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah