There has been a lot of confusion created by the way orphans are defined. International agencies recognize orphans in two categories: single orphan and double orphan. A single orphan is a child who has lost one parent, and often reside with the living parent or other family members. Double orphans are children who have lost both parents. 

Organizations adopted the broader definition of orphan in the mid-1990s as the AIDS pandemic began leading to the death of millions of parents worldwide, leaving an ever increasing number of children growing up without one or more parents. The terminology of a ‘single orphan’ and a ‘double orphan’ was born to convey this growing crisis. 1

"Many of these children who live in orphanages or on the streets are known as “social orphans.” Although one or even both of their parents may be alive, social orphans rarely see their parents or experience life in a family. Some never do. Global orphan statistics shed virtually no light on the reality of the vast number of social orphans who have one or more living parents, yet experience life as if they did not." 2


  • 153 million orphans worldwide (single and double orphans) 3
  • 17.8 million double orphans 4
  • 95% of orphans are over the age of five 5
  • 2 to 8 million children are currently living in institutions 6

*overallestimates don't include children living on the streets, those in institutions, or those who have fallen victim to human trafficking 7

Sources: (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)


  • Reunification or Preservation of Families - If we can work to keep families of origin together, it's almost always the best option. Unless there's an environment of abuse, neglect, or some other extenuating circumstances that put the child at-risk or in danger.
  • Foster Care - In the US, there is a huge need for foster families. Children who have been displaced from their homes are extremely vulnerable and usually face more instability and safety concerns once they are placed into the system. The need for loving, stable, safe families to care for these children is huge. 
  • Adoption - Adoption is a wonderful option, but we must recognize that it's not the only nor is it always the best option to care for orphans. Those interested in adoption must do their due diligence to ensure that it's ethical. There are too many children who are being adopted for the wrong reasons or even worse, are being victimized by a criminal network.