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Global Politics of Orphanhood

Orphanhood has long been understood as the condition of children whose parents have died. Orphans are usually considered to be particularly vulnerable children because of the loss of their parent(s). However, many societies have different local definitions for orphans that serve to minimize the social exclusion of children without parents, especially through social mandates for extended family to provide care to children who have lost their parents. Children’s experience of orphanhood is therefore highly variable and not necessarily an indicator of extreme vulnerability.

In the 1990s, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) adopted a broad definition of an orphan as any child who has lost one or more parents to death. This has had consequences for global social policy on—and humanitarian responses to—orphanhood. This ...

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