SEATTLE — UNICEF defines an orphan as “a child who has lost one or both parents.” By this definition, there were over 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005. In countries like the Central African Republic, orphans live in an environment plagued by war and conflict, with a high threat of HIV and a low likelihood of completing their education. It may in fact be the worst country to be an orphan.
Located in the middle of Africa, the Central African Republic has been engaged in civil warfare since 2012 and is under the control of an unstable and autocratic government. The country therefore lacks the institutions and welfare structures to support orphans and the communities they live in.
The Central African Republic is currently home to 5.3 million people, 40 percent of whom are under the age of 14. With such a low percentage of living adults, the majority of children are forced to live without parental or familial support.
These children’s rights to education, healthcare, food and shelter are inherently compromised. Without a familial income, orphans have no other choice except to look for illegal and unethical forms of employment. The International Labor Organization has reported that the recruitment of child soldiers remains one of the most severe forms of child employment.
The World Bank estimated in 2014 that 62 percent of the Central African Republic’s population was living in poverty. In recent years, think tanks and academic research have found an inextricable link between poverty and the prevalence of orphans.
In 2004, Princeton University’s Research Program for Development Studies released a study showing that orphans in Africa were more likely to live in poor households and distant relatives were less likely to invest in these children’s healthcare and education.
The Princeton researchers also found that orphans were less likely to attend school. Girls often stay at home to do domestic work, while boys are expected to find a job. The CIA estimates that 47 percent of children aged 5 to 14 were engaged in work and spent an average of only seven years in school.
According to the World Bank, 91,000 children were orphaned in the Central African Republic in 2014 because of HIV/AIDS. However, the government only spent 4.2 percent of its GDP on healthcare in 2014. Orphaned children are therefore more susceptible to the disease, but are unable to receive adequate healthcare.
At present, international NGOs and charities, such as UNICEF, Vision Trust and SOS Children’s Villages have attempted to set up orphanages and social welfare centers in the Central African Republic to help vulnerable children, alleviating their suffering in what might be the worst country to be an orphan.
– Isabella Farr