AskDefine | Define orphanage

Dictionary Definition



1 the condition of being a child without living parents; "his early orphanage shaped his character as an adult" [syn: orphanhood]
2 a public institution for the care of orphans [syn: orphans' asylum]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a public institution for the care and protection of orphans



Extensive Definition

An orphanage is an institution devoted to the care of children whose parents are deceased or otherwise unable to care for them. Parents, and sometimes grandparents, are legally responsible for supporting children, but in the absence of these or other relatives willing to care for the children they become a ward of the state, and orphanages are a way of providing for their care and housing. Many developed nations have phased out orphanages in favor of foster care and more extensive adoption programs.


The first orphanages, called "orphanotrophia," were founded in the 1st century amid various alternative means of orphan support. Jewish law, for instance, prescribed care for the widow and orphan, and Athenian law supported all orphans of those killed in military service until the age of eighteen, and Plato (Laws, 927) says:—"Orphans should be placed under the care of public guardians. Men should have a fear of the loneliness of orphans and of the souls of their departed parents. A man should love the unfortunate orphan of whom he is guardian as if he were his own child. He should be as careful and as diligent in the management of the orphan's property as of his own or even more careful still." . The care of orphans was particularly commended to bishops and, during the Middle Ages, to monasteries. Many orphanages practiced some form of "binding-out" in which children, as soon as they were old enough, were given as apprentices to households. This would ensure their support and their learning an occupation.
Historically, certain birth parents were often pressured or forced to give up their children to orphanages: those of children born out of wedlock or into poor families; those with disabilities or of children born with disabilities; and those with girls born into patriarchial societies. Such practices are assumed to be quite rare in the modern Western world, thanks to improved social security and changed social attitudes, but remain in force in many other countries.
Since the 1950s, after a series of scandals involving the coercion of birth parents and abuse of orphans (notably at Georgia Tann's Tennessee Children's Home Society), the United States and other countries have moved to deinstitutionalize the care of vulnerable children—that is, close down orphanages in favor of foster care and accelerated adoption. Moreover, as it is no longer common for birth parents in Western countries to give up their children, and as far fewer people die of diseases or violence while their children are still young, the need to operate large orphanages has decreased. These factors have also resulted in a dramatic reduction of local orphans available for adoption in first-world countries, necessitating journeys by many would-be adoptive parents to orphanages in the Third World.
Today, the term orphanage has given way to softer language as "group home," "children's home," or "rehabilitation center." However, major charities are increasingly focusing their efforts on community-based care of orphans in order to keep them with extended family and communities. Orphanages are no longer common in the European community, and Romania in particular has struggled to reduce the visibility of its children's institutions to meet conditions of its entry into the European Union. In the United States, the largest remaining orphanage is the Bethesda Orphanage, founded in 1740 by George Whitefield.
In many works of fiction (notably Oliver Twist and Annie) the administrators of orphanages are depicted as cruel monsters.


2% of children, one of Europe's highest rates.
A 67-year-old Bulgarian man, Asen Iliev, fired on teenagers as they left a Bulgarian orphanage March 12 2008, killing a 15-year-old girl and wounding two other young people before taking his own life. Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev promised to review legislation on homes for children deprived of parental care.


During the Victorian Era, child abandonment was rampant and orphanages were set up to reduce infant mortality. Such places were often so full of children that "killing nurses" often administered Godfrey's cordial, a special concoction of opium and treacle, to soothe colicky babies.


Total – 1,099 (1998) “In 1998, there were a total of 1,101 places and 1,099 wards in the orphanages across Estonia. The number of wards in orphanages has remained stabile over the years (e.g. in 1993, there were 1,098 children in orphanages). This can be partly explained by the lack of orphanages for street children who have different lifestyles and habits that are threatening to health and life.” In 2007 there are total of 20 orphanages and fosterhomes across Estonia, and 1600 children in orphanages.


22,000+ (1998) “More than 22,000 orphaned and abandoned children are in state custody in Hungary.”


Total 241 – (1994 statistics for 32 foster homes) (300 more children are documented to live in children’s villages.) Positive changes in the situation of foster children can be seen. In 1995, the International Children's Rights Convention was ratified and NGOs became more active in this field. There are about 40 organizations and foundations that shelter children: the Lithuanian Children's Fund, `Viltis', the `SOS Children's homes, and the assistance foundation `Vaiko tëviðkes namai'. At present, there are 30 affiliates of `SOS Children', and 10 children's villages have been created, in which 300 children live. In each house in each village, there are 5 -7 children living along with their guardian, or `mother'. Children aged eight or over are taken into these villages, and stay until they are 18.


Approximately 90,000 “In Poland today there are 350 orphanages-the highest number in Central Europe- including about 100 smaller orphanages run by families. They are home to about 80,000 children.”

Republic of Moldova

Approximate total – 2000 in orphanages 279 in orphanages “of the family type.”


At the end of 2004, of the 4.8 million children living in Romania , 82,902 are in the care of the state. Out of this total only 32,579 are in residential-type institutions - a third of the number there was some years ago. This represents 0.75% of the total number of children in Romania, a figure similar in size with that of other European countries.
Number of children by type of orphanage — 2008-01-01:
  • public orphanages: 20,532
  • private orphanages: 4,582
  • Total: 25,114


Total — approximately 7,000 (2007) “Slovak orphanages house about 7,000 children aged 3-18 in 56 orphanages in Slovakia. Ten percent of these children are in the process of being adopted. Forty percent have guardians who are not their parents, and remaining forty percent were placed in orphanages for legal institutional care. Due to the small number of children who are "legally free for adoption," coupled with restrictive Slovak legislation, no Slovak children have been adopted by foreigners until very recently. Slovak orphanages for children up to age 3 are administered by the Ministry of Health of the Slovak Republic; orphanages for children of ages 3–18 by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Slovak Republic.


Partial information: 120 - Mosques of Charity “The orphanage houses about 120 children in Giza, Menoufiya and Qalyubiya..”. 192 - The Awladi 200+ - Dar Al-Iwaa “We provide free education and accommodation for over 200 girls and boys.”. 44 - Dar Al-Mu'assassa Al-Iwaa'iya “Dar Al-Mu'assassa Al-Iwaa'iya (Shelter Association), a government association affiliated with the Ministry of Social Affairs, was established in 1992. It houses about 44 children.” 30 - Sayeda Zeinab orphanage 300 - My Children Orphanage
Note: There are about 185 orphanages in Egypt. The above information was taken from the following articles: “Other families,” by Amany Abdel-Moneim. Al-Ahram Weekly (5/1999) “Ramadan brings charity to Egypt's orphans.” Shanghai Star 12/13/2001 “A Child by Any Other Name,” by Réhab El-Bakry. Egypt Today (11/2002)


Total - 160 (2000) “For example, in the Jerusalem Association Children's Home (JACH), only 160 children remain of the 785 who were in JACH's three orphanages.” / “Attitudes regarding the institutional care of children have shifted dramatically in recent years in Ethiopia. There appears to be general recognition by MOLSA and the NGOs with which Pact is working that such care is, at best, a last resort, and that serious problems arise with the social reintegration of children who grow up in institutions, and deinstitutionalization through family reunification and independent living are being emphasized.”


A 1999 survey of 35,000 orphans found the following number in institutional care: 64 -registered institutions; 164 -unregistered institutions.


Total – 5000 Out of 400,000 orphans, 5,000 are living in orphanages.


Approximate total – 3000 “Currently, there are 52 orphanages in Tanzania caring for about 3,000 orphans and vulnerable children.”


In Nigeria, a rapid assessment of orphans and vulnerable children conducted in 2004 with UNICEF support revealed that there were about seven millions orphans in 2003 and that 800,000 more orphans were added during that same year. Out of this total number, about 1.8 million are orphaned by HIV-AIDS. With the spread of HIV-AIDS, the number of orphans is expected to increase rapidly in the coming years to 8.2 million by 2010.


A 1996 national survey of orphans revealed no evidence of orphanage care. The breakdown of care was as follows: For double orphans: 38% grandparents 55% extended family 1% older orphan 6% non-relative


Total number unknown: Statistics on the total number of children in orphanages nation-wide are unavailable, but care givers say their facilities were becoming unmanageably overwhelmed almost on a daily basis. There are 38 privately run children's charity homes, or orphanages in the country, and the government operates eight of its own.
Between 1994 and 1998, the number of orphans in Zimbabwe more than doubled from 200,000 to 543,000, and in five years the number is expected to reach 900,000. (Unfortunately, there is no room for these children.)


  • Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned by AIDS, 2005, estimate 88,000 .
  • Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned due to all causes, 2005, estimate 280,000
  • Orphans, Orphan school attendance ratio, 1999-2005 96,000 .

Sierra Leone

Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned by AIDS, 2005, estimate 31,000 Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned due to all causes, 2005, estimate 340,000 Orphans, Orphan school attendance ratio, 1999-2005 71,000


  • Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned by AIDS, 2005, estimate 25,000
  • Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned due to all causes, 2005, estimate 560,000
  • Orphans, Orphan school attendance ratio, 1999-2005 74,000



The "Royal Charity Organization" is a Bahraini governmental charity organization founded in 2001 by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah to sponsor all helpless Bahraini orphans and widows. Since then almost 7000 Bahraini families are granted monthly payments, annual school bags, and a number of University Scholarships. Graduate Ceremonies, various soicial and educational activities, and occasional contests are held each year by the organization for the benefit of orphans and widows sponsored by the organization.


Total –638 (2001) “On the other hand, the number of orphanages and orphans drastically dropped from 15 institutions and 2,216 persons in 1971 to 9 institutions and 638 persons by the end of 2001.

South Korea

Approximate total – 17,000 (1999) “There are now 17,000 children in public orphanages throughout the country and untold numbers at private institutions.”


(Kabul only) -Total – 1200 orphans live in orphanages “At Kabul's two main orphanages, Alauddin and Tahia Maskan, the number of children enrolled has increased almost 80 percent since last January, from 700 to over 1,200 children. Almost half of these come from families who have at least one parent, but who can't support their children. ”


Partial information: “There are no statistics regarding the actual number of children in welfare institutions in Bangladesh. The Department of Social Services, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, has a major programme named Child Welfare and Child Development in order to provide access to food, shelter, basic education, health services and other basic opportunities for hapless children.” (The following numbers mention “capacity” only….not actual numbers of orphans at present) 9,500 -State institutions 250 -babies in 3 available “Baby Homes” 400 -Destitute Children's Rehabilitation Centre 100 -Vocational Training Centre for Orphans and Destitute Children 1,400 -Sixty-five Welfare and Rehabilitation Programmes for Children with Disability source The private welfare institutions are mostly known as orphanages and madrassahs. The authorities of most of these orphanages put more emphasis on religion and religious studies. One example follows:
400 – Approximately - Nawab Sir Salimullah Muslim Orphanage


As in other parts of the world, Non-government organizations such as Save the Children are increasingly focusing their efforts away from orphanages and into community-based care for orphans. The first community-based care program in Cambodia was established in 2000 by Servants to Asia's Urban Poor and called Project HALO (Hope, Assistance and Love for Orphans), mobilizing care for more than 1000 children orphaned by AIDS within their own communities and extended families. A large number of other organizations, such as "World Orphans", who have funded construction for 47 orphanages in the past three years, house thousands of orphans in orphanages dotted across the country. Most Cambodian orphans are orphaned due to their parents dying from AIDS and some from land mines. The total number of orphans is unknown: “There are no accurate figures available on how many orphans there are in Cambodia..”


Estimated total in 2002 – 50,000 “Currently there are 50,000 children in Chinese orphanages, while the number of abandoned children shows no sign of slowing.” Estimated total in 1996 – fewer than 20,000 “Official figures show that fewer than 20,000 of China's orphans are now in any form of institutional care.” Chinese official records fail to account for most of the country’s abandoned infants and children, only a small proportion of whom are in any form of acknowledged state care. The most recent figure provided by the government for the country’s orphan population, 100,000 seems implausibly low for a country with a total population of 1.2 billion. Even if it were accurate, however, the whereabouts of the great majority of China’s orphans would still be a complete mystery, leaving crucial questions about the country’s child welfare system unanswered and suggesting that the real scope of the catastrophe that has befallen China’s unwanted children may be far larger than the evidence in this report documents.


Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned due to all causes, 2005, estimate 25,700,000 State of [Andhra Pradesh] -Children’s Homes – 5,050 : 6 – 18 years of age Refer to “Children’s Homes.” Government of Andhra Pradesh


Total in 1990 –1,190 :UNICEF maintains the same number at present. “While the number of state homes for orphans in the whole of Iraq was 25 in 1990 (serving 1,190 children); both the number of homes and the number of beneficiaries has declined. The quality of services has also declined.” A 1999 study by UNICEF “recommended the rebuilding of national capacity for the rehabilitation of orphans.” The new project “will benefit all the 1,190 children placed in orphanages.”

Palestinian Territory

Total – 1,714 (1999) “In 1999, the number of children living in orphanages witnessed a considerable drop as compared to 1998. This number dropped from 1,980 to 1,714 orphans. This is due to the policy of child re-integration in their household adopted by the Ministry of Social Affairs.”


Orphans, Children (0-17 years) orphaned due to all causes, 2005, estimate 25,000

Former Soviet Union


"Approximate total 188,000 end of the year (2006). There are some 153,000 children and teenagers living in state institutions, according to Russia's Health Ministry. Some 15,000 young people graduate from the state-run orphanages every year. There are many web pages of Russian orphanages, but very few of them are in English, such as St Nicholas Orphanage in Siberia or the Alapaevsk orphanage in the Urals. Approximately total - 200,000 (1998) “Of a total of more than 600,000 children classified as being “without parental care,” (most of them live with other relatives and fosters) as many as one-third reside in institutions.”


No official number “Many children are abandoned due to extreme poverty and harsh living conditions. Family members or neighbors may raise some of these children but the majority live in crowded orphanages until the age of fifteen when they are sent into the community to make a living for themselves.”


Approximate total – 1,773 (1993 statistics for “all types of orphanages)


Partial information: 85 – Ivanovka Orphanage


While information is available for orphaned children, there are no specific numbers for those orphans placed in orphanages. “The analysis of the reason why a child is in an institution shows that the proportion of the number of orphans in the children’s social care institutions was only 5.6% although the dynamic pointed to an increasing number of orphans.” See Figure 4.2.


Approximate total – 9,000 (1997) “No one can be sure how many lone children are there in the republic. About 9,000 are in internats and in orphanages.”


103 000
Other information:
  • thousands - Zaporizhia region
  • 150 – Kiev State Baby Orphanage
  • 30 – Beregena Orphanage
  • 120 – Dom Invalid Orphanage


Partial Information: 80 – Takhtakupar Orphanage



No information for the number of children actually in orphanages. The number of orphaned and abandoned children is approx. 91,000+.

North America & Caribbean


Partial and conflicting information: 200,000+ (estimated) children waiting for institutional orphan care “Children in Institutions: Haitians and expatriate childcare professionals are careful to make it clear that Haitian orphanages and children’s homes are not orphanages in the North American sense, but instead shelters for vulnerable children, often housing children whose parent (s) are poor as well as those who are abandoned, neglected or abused by family guardians. Neither the number of children or the number of institutions is officially known, but Chambre de L’Enfance Necessiteusse Ha_tienne (CENH) indicated that is has received requests for assistance from nearly 200 orphanages from around the country for more than 200,000 children. Although not all are orphans, many are vulnerable or originate in vulnerable families that hoped to increase their children’s opportunities by sending them to orphanages.” / “The CENH figures seem high when compared to Schwarz’s 1999 count of five rural and three urban orphanages in the Northwest Province and northern Artibonite, with a total of 376 children. Catholic Relief Services provides assistance to 120 orphanages with 9,000 children in the West, South, Southeast and Grand Anse, but these include only orphanages that meet their criteria. They estimate receiving ten requests per week for assistance from additional orphanages and children’s homes, but some of these are repeat requests.”


Approximately 10,000+ (1999) “…at least 10,000 Mexican children live in orphanages and more in unregistered charity homes”

United States

Partial information:
  • 188 catholic orphanages took care of 75,890 children


Approximately 20,000 (2000) “…currently there are about 20,000 children in orphanages.”

Significant charities that help orphans

Prior to the establishment of state care for orphans in First World countries, many private charities existed to take care of destitute orphans.
  • SOS Children's Villages is the world's largest non-governmental, non-denominational child welfare organization. Its mission is to provide stable homes and loving families for orphaned and abandoned children around the world.

See also

orphanage in Czech: Sirotčinec
orphanage in Danish: Vajsenhus
orphanage in German: Waisenhaus
orphanage in Spanish: Orfanato
orphanage in Esperanto: Orfejo
orphanage in Indonesian: Panti asuhan
orphanage in Italian: Orfanotrofio
orphanage in Hebrew: בית יתומים
orphanage in Dutch: Weeshuis
orphanage in Japanese: 孤児院
orphanage in Norwegian: Waisenhuset
orphanage in Polish: Dom dziecka
orphanage in Portuguese: Orfanato
orphanage in Russian: Детский дом
orphanage in Simple English: Orphanage
orphanage in Slovak: Detský domov
orphanage in Finnish: Lastenkoti
orphanage in Swedish: Barnhem
orphanage in Chinese: 孤兒院
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