From Academic Kids

Alternative uses: see orphan (typesetting), and orphan process in computing.

An orphan (from the Greek ορφανός) is a being, typically a human or non-human animal child, whose parents have both died. Half-orphans are children with one surviving parent. Most adults beyond a certain age have lost their parents and are not generally referred to as orphans.

In certain animal species where the father typically abandons the mother and child at or prior to birth, the child will be called an orphan when the mother dies regardless of the condition of the father.

Societal treatment of human orphans

Today, in the first world, most orphaned children are placed in foster care and then adopted with a permanent family as soon as possible.

In past times and in much of the third world, orphans often lived homeless as "street urchins", or were cared for in almshouses, orphanages, or occasionally monasteries; most modern people feel that this was a mistake, or, at the least, provided suboptimal care. In particular, almshouses were often shared with the adult homeless and the (sometimes dangerously) mentally ill in an age when many mental illnesses were incurable.

In some nations faced with war and AIDS, a significant proportion of the young population is orphaned, which is a major humanitarian crisis. In the People's Republic of China, infant daughters are sometimes abandoned due to the one child policy, which also creates a significant number of effective orphans.

Orphans typically suffer from adjustment problems related to identity, according to studies.

Orphans in literature

Orphaned characters are extremely common as literary protagonists, especially in children's and fantasy literature. The lack of parents leaves the characters to pursue more interesting and adventurous lives, by freeing them from familial obligations and depriving them of more prosaic lives. The lack of parents creates characters that are self-contained and introspective and who strive for affection. Orphans can metaphorically search for self-understanding through attempting to know their roots. All these characteristics make orphans attractive characters for authors.

See also



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