UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund. It is an agency of the United Nations responsible for programs to aid education and the health of children and mothers in developing countries. As such, it tracks and records statistics about a multitude of issues, including orphans throughout the world. Although I’m not the biggest fan of the U.N., any agency that assists orphans is worthwhile in my book. Annotated below is a list of sobering statistics produced by UNICEF regarding how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is devastating orphans across the world.
UNICEF produced a report titled Children on the Brink in 2002. It found that more than 13.4 million children had lost one or both parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the three regions studied (Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean), a number that was estimated to increase to 25 million by 2010. In addition to the millions of children orphaned by AIDS, millions more are being adversely affected by the disease. In addition to providing statistics on orphans from 88 countries in 2002, UNICEF identified several troubling trends:
1. Africa has the greatest proportion of children who are orphans. In 2001, 34 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were orphans, one-third of them due to AIDS. Because of AIDS, the number of orphans continues to increase dramatically. By 2010, the number of orphans was estimated to reach 42 million. Twenty million of these children – or almost 6 percent of all children in Africa -will be orphaned due to AIDS.
2. Asia has the largest number of orphans. Due to Asia’s large population, the number of orphans in Asia is much larger than in Africa. In 2001, there were 65 million orphans, with approximately 2 million of them orphaned due to AIDS.
3. Orphan populations are concentrated, reflecting broader trends in HIV prevalence and population. In 2001, 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 70 percent of the orphans. The three countries with the largest populations also had the most orphans – Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the impact of AIDS will be felt even more acutely in countries with smaller populations, but higher HIV prevalence rates.
4. The number of orphans throughout the world will continue to rise. Today’s prevalence rates will largely determine the pattern of orphaning for the next decade. In countries where HIV/AIDS prevalence has recently escalated, the full impact on the estimated number of orphans has yet to emerge.
The difficulties of life as an orphan are brutal. UNICEF highlights just some of the all too common problems these children face. Children without the guidance and protection of their primary caregivers are often more vulnerable and at risk of becoming victims of violence, exploitation, trafficking, discrimination or other abuses. In conflict situations, involuntary separation from both family and community protection, sometimes across national borders, greatly increases the child’s risk of exposure to violence, physical abuse, exploitation and even death. Surviving children face malnutrition, illness, physical and psychosocial trauma, and impaired cognitive and emotional development. Unaccompanied girls are at especially high risk of sexual abuse. Meanwhile, unaccompanied boys are at high risk of forced or ‘voluntary’ participation in violence and armed conflict.
The following statistics were compiled as of 2002:
- 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.
Sleep tight. May an angel’s wing touch every orphaned child.