"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you."

James 1:27

The Orphan Crisis

What is the cause of the global orphan crisis? While there are several contributing factors to the global orphan crisis, including poverty, HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality, unwanted pregnancies, and war, those of us at Man Up and Go assert that male complicity in the abdication of their biblical responsibility to care for their families has been one of the most overlooked factors. 

Sadly, fatherlessness is not unique to developing nations. In fact, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 24 million children in the United States alone – that’s one out of every three – live in birth father absent homes. Furthermore, several National Longitudinal Studies on Youth have well documented the negative effects of absentee fathers on childhood poverty, emotional & behavioral problems, maternal & child health, youth incarceration, juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse & neglect, drug & alcohol abuse, childhood obesity and education. It is Man Up and Go’s assertion that children, regardless of global geography, benefit in every measurable way by the presence of a committed father in the home.

Exactly how many orphans are in the world?

To better appreciate the broader context of this question, it is best to start with an accurate understanding of exactly what defines an orphan. No matter how well-intentioned our efforts, without this fundamental framework, the Man Up and Go organization realizes that we run the risk of undermining our advocacy efforts on behalf of some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Despite a common misconception that a child must have lost both parents to be defined as an orphan, UNICEF embraced a more comprehensive definition during the mid-1990’s in response to the AID’s pandemic. The terms, “single orphan,” and “double orphan,” referencing the loss of either one or both parents respectively, was adopted in order to convey the enormity of a growing crisis affecting millions of children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS. 

According to current UNICEF statistics, the estimated number of orphans worldwide is reported to include:

  • 163 million children who have lost either one or both parents (referred to as “single orphans”)
  • 18.5 million children who have lost both parents (referred to as, “double orphans”)

It is worth noting that while statistics are an important means by which we can more adeptly identify the far-reaching impact of this crisis, it is also worth noting their intrinsic limitations. Unfortunately, present global orphan statistics drastically underestimate the actual number of orphans worldwide, inasmuch as they fail to account for children who live outside the well-defined boundaries of family and community. According to current UNICEF statistics, this includes an additional:

  • Estimated 150 million street children
  • Estimated 8 million children living in institutions
  • Estimated 1.2 million trafficked children
  • Tens of thousands of child soldiers

And yet, these numbers don’t even begin to tell the full story of fatherlessness.  Many dads are simply not present in the lives of their children. As many as 350 million children grow up without a father around the globe simply because Dad has chosen to vacate his position in the home. Proper interpretation of these statistics is vital if we are to respond with advocacy strategies that appropriately address each cross-section of children in need, from “double” orphans to those who, for reasons only known to the negligent father, no longer have Dad in the picture.