17 Sep What Does it Mean to be an Orphan?

Many would consider the question to have a straightforward answer, but the reality of what these orphans experience reveals that the question is much more complex. Although many recognize an orphan as simply a child with no parents, orphans can actually be quantified into two different categories, biological and social, both of which have their own meanings and implications. Unfortunately, both types of orphans can be found in the streets of Brazil.

In contrast to a biological orphan, a social orphan may have living parents, but due to drug addiction, abandonment, poverty, etc. the parents are not able to handle their responsibilities, forcing the child to find a sense of home and love somewhere else. The surplus of social orphans in Brazil is extremely tragic, because despite having living parents, these children are still forced to suffer on the streets because their parents cannot fulfill their duties.

A particularly disturbing story, which illustrates how horrific the lives of social orphans are, can be found in David Z. Nowell’s book, Dirty Faith. The story details the life of Ileana, an eight-year-old girl whose father was sent to prison, and whose mother succumbed to drug addiction. Because of such circumstances, Ileana was forced onto the streets, with the hope of making money. Because Ileana was so young, it was difficult for her to make a sufficient amount of money, which caused her mom to resort to some despicable ways of bringing in income, such as even exploiting her own daughter.  Ileana was forced into her mom’s garden shed, in which she described being, “locked up there for about three months, being abused two or three times a week.” (Nowell, 2) It is hard to imagine a poor innocent child being forced into prostitution by her own mother, but stories such as these are far too common, and there are many girls and boys who have been exposed the same abuse as Ileana in Brazil alone. It is noted in Dirty Faith that, “Every year in Brazil, 250,000 adolescent and preadolescent girls enter the sex trade.”

Stories such as Ileana’s, and thousands of other exploited children, make it evident that it is reductionist to simply call them orphans. Even in the most fundamental sense, referring to orphans with adjectives as biological or social demonstrates an intention to orient attention away from terrible, traumatic experiences. Referring to the collective group of children as orphans does not reveal the weight that comes with the horrific situations that many are subjected to, and it also subtly implies that there is no real path forward to a better life.

Thankfully, at Hope Unlimited, we know this does not have to be the reality for these orphans. We know that with residential care and educational and vocational instruction, these orphans are given a chance to thrive. As you will read next, it is a transformation like no other.

Matthew Barber

guest contributor