Orphaned children are a phenomenon common to all countries across the globe. Orphans are generally understood to be children without parental care and represent some of the most vulnerable members of any society. Exact interpretations of orphanhood, however, tend to vary across time and space. This entry provides an overview of the various and complicated ways in which orphans have been classified, the historical use of the term, and finally, the contemporary conceptualisation of orphanhood.

The Classification of Orphans

There is no single, agreed upon category of ‘orphan’, but different categories of orphan such as ‘AIDS orphan’ or ‘street children’ receive greater or lesser attention in international aid discourses at different moments in time. There are multiple definitions of ‘orphan’; United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund categorises ...

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