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The situation regarding orphans on the continent of Africa is dire. While in many countries the number of orphans is decreasing, the opposite is true in Africa. It is estimated that there are nearly 39 million orphans in Africa alone, with another approximately 2 million more children becoming orphaned each year. Aids is the single biggest disease related contributor to the orphan crisis in the world. Other contributing factors are poverty, and non aids related health issues. Many parents simply cannot afford to look after their children and turn them over to the state to be adopted out or raised in an institution.
Life in an Orphanage in Africa
The vast majority of orphanages in Sub-Saharan Africa are set up and funded by independent organizations and charities. There are some state funded orphanages, but these are in the majority. In South Africa, there is currently no licensing of orphanages, but there are still many unregulated children’s homes being set up with little or no oversight.
While there has been some negative press lately concerning the work of orphanages in Africa, the overwhelming majority of such homes are doing a tremendous amount of good. In many of the homes, children are given clean clothes, three meals a day and a safe place to sleep. Many are even given free medical care and a chance at an education. Unfortunately many children age out of the system by age 16 to 18 and many of them end up back on the streets if they are not adopted before that time.
Funding for Orphanages in Africa
Since most of the orphanages in Africa are privately owned and operated (with state supervision and licensing) the bulk of their operating funds comes from churches and individual donors; mostly in Western countries.
Many celebrities take an interest in orphan care and become very involved in financial support. Some, like Madonna, even pay to start and fund an entire orphanage on their own. This type of support is not always received well by the public, but I am sure that the orphans who benefit from the home feel differently about it.
A Growing Problem Without a Clear Solution
A spokesman for the UN stated that by the year 2020 there will be more than 50 million orphans in just 16 of Africa’s 53 countries. The same person went on to estimate that it would take nearly a billion dollars a year to care for them all. With Aids, malaria, and tuberculosis being the primary killers of poverty stricken adults, the problem is not likely to get better, until we are able to get a handle on solving the health issues that plague this continent.
One solution that is making a small, but necessary impact is the fact that many Westerners are increasingly opening their homes to these orphans. Since 2004 over 35,000 African orphans have been adopted internationally. The leading country for international adoptions is Ethiopia, followed by South Africa and Libya.
Not all Africans are happy about this fact, and new laws are being introduced to stem the tide of interest from the international community. While the lawmakers struggle with the issue, the orphanages on the ground are doing the work every day to provide the best care possible to the overwhelming number of children destitute of a home.