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Let’s talk numbers!

Over the past year and a half, I've been trying to wrap my head around the plight of orphans not just in China but all over the world.  The "problem" is so big and so overwhelming that it's hard to know where to start.

Let's talk numbers because that's where it's most concrete – numbers say something about the gravity of the situation.  While exact numbers are hard to come by or simply unavailable, I've managed to cobble together as much as I could based on whatever reliable sources I can find online.

Number of Orphans in the World
According to the 2010 UNICEF Annual Report, there are about 153 million orphans worldwide.  The overwhelming majority of orphans are found in Asia (46% or 71 million) and Africa (38% or 59 million). 

Number of Adoptions
Despite how many orphans there are in the world, only approximately 250,000 of them are adopted annually.  In other words, only 0.01% of all orphans are ever adopted.  The rest simply "age out" of the system.  In most countries, once a child reaches 16 years old, they are kicked out of the orphanage and have to find a life for themselves.

Number of Orphans Not Adopted
Each year 14 million orphans age out of the system with no family to belong to and no place to call home.  
The life-chances of non-adopted orphans are pretty grim.
  • 60% of the girls enter prostitution
  • 70% of the boys become hardened criminals
  • 15% of these children commit suicide before they reach age eighteen
  • 10% become indenture servants
  • countless become homeless and hopeless
Orphans in China
It is estimated that there are about 70,000 government-run orphanages in China, housing about 17 million orphans, majority of them are girls.

China began allowing foreign adoptions in 1999, and since then, over 100,000 Chinese orphans have been placed in foreign homes, 60,000 of them with U.S. families.  In 2009 one in four international adoptions by U.S. families are Chinese adoptions.

Finding Significance Behind Numbers
I don't know how you've processed the statistics above.  On the one hand, these numbers provide us invaluable understanding of the dimension of the problem and aid us in prioritizing our resources and efforts.  On the other hand, these numbers can also be numbing and debilitating.  Knowing that there are 153 million orphans in the world can obscure the humanity, the dignity, and the worth of each of those children. 

Richard Stearns, author of The Hole in Our Gospel, argues that statistics strips "their names and their stories, homogenizes their personalities, and cheapens the value of each individual child, creating in the very image of God. Statistics can become just another way to look away from the faces of the poor, just one more way to walk by on the other side of the road." 

So how do we find significance and meaning behind the numbers?  How do you start doing something about the numbers?

The answer is to focus on ONE PERSON.  For some, this may mean sponsoring ONE CHILD (as little as $1/day).  For others, it may mean praying for ONE CHILD by name to be adopted (see link below for a photo list of children waiting to be adopted in China).  For yet others, it may mean bringing ONE CHILD into your family.  Whatever you do, focusing on ONE CHILD makes it manageable.  

In our case, Abby is the ONE CHILD that matters to us.  She's not just a number or a statistic.  She's ONE among the 153 million orphans in the world that has a home, a family, and a church that loves her and can't wait to hold her.  She will be ONE CHILD whose life and life-chances will be forever changed.

Who is your ONE CHILD?

1. U.S. State Department 2009 Annual Report:
6. UNICEF Estimates of Orphans in the World:
7. UNICEF The State of the World's Children 2009 Report: 
8. Holt International's Journey of Hope Photo List:


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