Maternal Death and The Orphan

The Life of an Orphaned Child

The death of a mother during or after childbirth not only poses an immediate threat to the newborn, but it also affects other children of the family. Both half (one parent deceased) and full (both parents deceased) orphans are disadvantaged in numerous and often devastating ways. Such orphans, when compared to non-orphans, are often poorer, less healthy and less likely to attend school, and are more likely to suffer damage to their cognitive and emotional development, in addition to them being more likely to enter some form of child labor.

A study in Malawi showed that 75% of maternal orphans (mother deceased) were being raised by someone other than their father, which illustrates the devastating effect of maternal death  on the  preservation of the family unit and its impact on creating full orphans (lack of both parents).  A study in 2001 found that 28% of orphans were looked after by ‘culturally inappropriate’ caregivers, such as matrilineal kin or strangers. Furthermore, many of the caretakers were themselves not fully capable, due to ill health or old age. [1]

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 29% of children aged 5-14 participate in some type of child labor, most likely due to orphan hood. In 2002 the working and living conditions of child domestic workers were studied in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was found that 75% of the domestic child workers were orphans. Of those interviewed, 80% of the child workers were in forced labor (they could not leave their job) and 35% lacked any schooling or opportunity for education. Of the child workers who were able to attend school, a majority could not study or do homework at home, and were often late or absent from school. The child laborers worked an average of 11 hours/day, 7 days/week, and were not allowed to play with other children, or participate in recreation or leisure activities, including watching television or listen to the radio, both activities which increase common knowledge and independence.[1]

Quarrying is another form of child labor, which consists of children mining, collecting, crushing, hauling and loading stones for construction. In a Tanzanian study of children between the ages of 7-17 who worked in mines, 38 % were orphans.[1]

Child prostitution is yet another way that orphans are forced to survive. A 2002 Zambian study found that the average age of child prostitutes was 15, 71% of which were orphans (47% double orphan, 24% single orphan). The primary reason for entering prostitution was the need to earn money, and daily earnings ranged from $0.63 to $7. The younger children tended to make less money, averaging $2.10/day with the average number of clients per day being three to four.[1]