Why “social” orphans?

This term has been used to distinguish between “true” orphans–those who have lost parents to death–and those who, though they have living parents, are living apart from them due to social conditions or circumstances.  For me, the term “social” orphan resonates because it points to a very large cohort of children for whom individualized solutions must be found, but where the obstacles and difficulties to finding these solutions are social and cultural in nature.

The problems are subtle,  complicated, and touch upon areas of life most national governments do not want to share with the rest of the world. Substance abuse, neglect, class and caste–the reasons for which children become separated from their original familes differ greatly from country to country.  The former Soviet Union is very different in this respect from Southeast Asia, for example, and each region must be treated on its own terms.

On the other hand, the set of bad outcomes in life for children living out of parental care is remarkably similar, given the eagerness of so many to find children to exploit. At the moment, national governments have a tendency to present the best possible image of life for children within their jurisdiction. What country wishes to be accused of being essentially “unfit” to care for its own children? The problem of children and their national ties is as vexed as the problem of parental rights and presents similar conceptual problems.


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