Orphaned Children in Africa: What Can We Learn from Census Data?
Abdramane B. Soura1, Bruno Masquelier2
1Institut Supérieur des Sciences de la Population, Université de Ouagadougou, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; 2Office of Population Research, Princeton University, United States

In recent years, great emphasis has been given to orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, partly as a result of the HIV-TB epidemic. According to the latest estimates, as much as 53 million children are orphans in the region; this is 12% of the population aged 0-17 years (UNICEF, 2006). About one third of these orphans have lost their parents because of HIV-aids, which means 80% of aids orphans worldwide are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. The rapid increase of the proportion of children orphaned is accompanied by a dramatic rise of the proportion of dual orphans, leaving children even more exposed to poverty and school drop-out.

Researches that focus on this orphan crisis are typically based on DHS surveys or prospective data (Ainsworth and Filmer. 2006; Beegle et al. 2010; Case et al. 2004), whereas census data on parental survival remain seldom used (Marcoux et al. 2010). However, numerous censuses contain information on parental loss. Such data have the potential to portray a more exhaustive picture of orphanhood than sample surveys. Among other features, mapping techniques can be used to identify sub-national regions with high orphan burden.

The objective of this paper is to give an overview of the orphan crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, drawing on evidence from IPUMS census microdata. We present levels and trends of orphanhood for 6 African countries (Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Mali) and offer some comparisons with estimates based on DHS surveys. We analyze the spatial distribution of orphans within countries and provide evidence of orphan clustering. Finally, we focus on the socio-economic vulnerability of orphans, looking at living arrangements, school enrolment and labor participation.


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K. Beegle, D. Filmer, A. Stokes, and L. Tiererova. Orphanhood and the Living Arrangements of Children in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Development, 38(12):1727–1746, 2010.

A. Case, C. Paxson, and J. Ableidinger. Orphans in Africa: Parental Death, Poverty, and School Enrollment. Demography, 41(3):483–508, 2004.

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Keywords: Orphanhood; Census; Sub-Saharan Africa; IPUMS

Biography: A. Soura works as a demographer at the ISSP (University of Ouagadougou) and coordinates the Demographic Surveillance Site of Ouagadougou. His research has focused on neighbourhood effects on child mortality in a multilevel perspective. He did his doctoral work at the University of Louvain in Belgium, and graduated with a PhD in demography.