War, Natural Disasters, and the Orphan Crisis
This article contains themes related to death, abuse, and natural disasters
As of the time this article was written, over 21,000 dead have been recorded in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Türkiye and Syria last February 6, 2023. The earthquake hit in the middle of winter for both countries, collapsing multiple buildings and leaving many without shelter.
Among those affected are over 32,000,000 children in both countries.
The toll on children is horrific. A picture surfaced of a father holding his lifeless teenage daughter’s hand, whom they were unable to rescue after pulling him out. Save the Children has been covering the impact with vlog after vlog of children describing their buildings, and lives, collapsing around them.
At the same time, miracles happen. A baby was born under the rubble three hours before she was found by rescuers. Neighbors cut her umbilical cord and rescuers rushed her into intensive care. Now, three days later, she is still under monitoring. We hope and pray she survives, but we already know something she is not yet old enough to understand.
She is an orphan, the only survivor of her immediate family. Not even her mother survived.
War and Natural Disasters Lead to Orphaned Children
The very first recorded children’s home in the world was created during the Roman Empire in 400 AD. As a military empire, many women were widowed and their children left fatherless. The state created children’s homes to educate the orphaned children for free until they turned 18.
Historically, wherever there is war, children’s homes are created to accommodate the great numbers of orphaned and abandoned children. Some of the largest were created after the religious wars of the 1600s, and after the World Wars that wiped out millions of men and women. Today, according to the World Forgotten Children Foundation around 250,000,000 children live in conflict-affected areas.
Orphans created by natural disasters are less aggressively documented, but the numbers are no less staggering. In Haiti alone, following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, an estimated 600,000 children were orphaned. The numbers following this recent crisis have not yet emerged, but with such a rapidly rising death toll, the destruction of families is massive.
In cases like war and natural disasters, children’s homes have a crucial role to play: the provision of shelter, food, clothing, care, and even continuing education for children in immediate need.
The Context in the Philippines
In the Philippines, we do have children affected by conflict and natural disasters. Thousands are reportedly child soldiers, tens of thousands have been orphaned by extra-judicial killings, and millions are displaced every year because of typhoons and earthquakes. Because paper-based files are usually destroyed during disasters, many children’s records are no longer found, and they easily fall prey to traffickers.
However, the largest danger to Filipino children is not orphanhood by war and disaster, it is abandonment, neglect, and abuse. 15,000,000 Filipino children are at risk of abandonment or neglect—more than half of our child population. Millions of others are unregistered, homeless or runaways, or are trafficked into sex work.
The children at risk in our own society were not orphaned by extraordinary circumstances—they found themselves locked into generational cycles of desperation and survival that are almost impossible to break.
Our Response as Advocates
As advocates, we can break these generational cycles of abuse and neglect. Every time we amplify the voice of child in need, every time we share our resources with a family, every time we open our hearts and homes to a vulnerable child, we have an opportunity to change not just one life, but all the generations to come.
We believe that family is the answer to the orphan crisis. The more families we can preserve, restore, and reunify, the more families who choose to adopt and foster, the more that children in need can grow and thrive with people who love and care for them. If one family in each church adopts or fosters one child, we could empty children’s homes at their current capacity.
When we have more waiting families than children in need, we free children’s homes to function where they are most effective: in extraordinary circumstances, meeting the immediate needs of children at risk.
Let us do our part and end this orphan crisis together.
Esther Suson is a certified Emergency Response Technician, and her inspiration was the Syrian first responder group the White Helmets, when they were first founded in 2014. The White Helmets is the reason she chose to go into NGO work for children. Esther is also taking her PhD in Christian Clinical Counseling at the Asia Graduate School of Theology. Her goal is to specialize in therapy for children from hard places.
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