Re/Defining Orphans

Two very important statements about the definition of orphans. One of the main points – that within the the US and other economically developed nations, "orphan" is a term to describe a child who has lost both parents to death (as in, children in these nations are considered orphans if they’ve lost both parents to death*). However, as UNICEF and other NGOs define the term, in the 1990s, "Orphan" was used to describe a child who had lost one or more parents. This is no small consideration as it changes the scope of justification in terms of how children in need are deemed appropriate for different kinds of services both in country and abroad.

[* Edited to add: As Rich brought to my attention, the U.S. State Department’s definition of who counts as an orphan is here. This definition defined by the INA is not what I was referring to above; as I should have worded better. I meant that when people in the U.S. consider children living in this country "orphans" they mean those with two parents deceased.For the purposes of international adoption, orphan is defined by the State Department similarly as UNICEF and the Hague Convention.]

Unicef’s definition of orphans
Ethica: Majority of Global "Orphans" have families

This paragraph from Ethica sums up how I feel about the over-justification of saving "orphans" from foreign countries.

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
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.

UNICEF has been demonized among some groups of adoption agencies and adoptive parents for what they believe is an anti-adoption philosophy; however I fully support UNICEF’s hierarchy of placement decisions which follow the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect to International Adoption:

  • Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development
    of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in
    an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

  • Recalling that each State should take, as a matter of priority,
    appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his
    or her family of origin,

  • Recognizing that intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a
    permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found
    in his or her State of origin,

  • Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that
    intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and
    with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the
    abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children

It is NOT that UNICEF is completely anti-adoption; what they ARE is an organization justly concerned with ETHICAL practices.

For children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate
alternative family environment should be sought in preference to
institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a
temporary measure. Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care
options which may be open to children, and for individual children who
cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of
origin, it may indeed be the best solution. 

…At the same time, lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the
countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has
spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather
than the best interests of children, takes centre stage.  Abuses
include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents, and
bribery, as well as trafficking to individuals whose intentions are to
exploit rather than care for children.

How one can be opposed to that, I don’t comprehend.