India Now Home to 20 Million Orphans, Study Finds

26/07/2011 - A new study by an international charity for orphaned and abandoned children found that India is home to 20 million orphans, a figure projected to increase by 2021.

A new study by an international children’s charity has found that 4 per cent (or 20 million) of India’s child population are orphans. Most of these children have been abandoned by their parents. In fact, the charity estimates that only 0.3 per cent of these orphans are children whose parents have actually died.

The study was conducted by SOS Children's Villages India, a charity providing family-based care for orphaned and abandoned children.

The data analyzed in the study came from India’s National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-2006), as well as from the national census. Under the terms of the study, “orphan” was defined as a child who has been abandoned or has lost both parents.

This is slightly different from the terminology used by inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, which also treat children who have lost only one parent as orphans.

The high proportion of abandoned children among orphans highlights the fact that poverty is a major reason behind the situation. Indeed, the study found that states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal had more orphans than India’s richer states. Generally, the country's central and eastern regions were found to be worse affected than the north and the south.

Combined, the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are home to 6 million orphaned children under the age of 18. By 2021, these states will probably be home to 7.1 million orphans. The eastern region, encompassing Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal, now houses 5.2 million orphans, but will likely have 6 million by 2021. Each of these regions is home to more than double the number of orphans living in either the north or west regions.

“Poverty has been a significant contributor in high orphan children in these states,” said Rakesh Jinsi, the organization’s Secretary-General. He added the social unrest and terror in areas affected by militancy can also be partly blamed. HIV and AIDS was also observed to be part of the reason.

An estimated 41 per cent of India’s population is below that age of 18 – the largest child population in the world. Acccording to the study, an additional 13 per cent of these children live in single-parent households, which are also socially and economically marginalized. About 85 per cent of children from single-parent households live with their mothers.

Orphaned children are greatly in need of care in protection, being among the most susceptible to poverty, child labour and child trafficking.

Future trends on progress toward reducing the number of orphans are mixed. While the total number of orphans is set to increase from 20 million to 24 million by 2021, the relative number, or proportion, is expected to fall.

“Governmental and non-governmental agencies working on child rights must jointly work towards addressing the needs of these children by providing them with nutrition, education and protection,” said Mr. Jinsi.