Who Does the Term “Orphan” Actually Refer To?

God calls us to care for orphans and those who can’t care for themselves.

Lifesong is built on this belief. But in order to run after this calling, it’s important to ask the question…

Who does the term orphan actually refer to?

Let’s start off by learning from the experts. Namely, the Bible. Oftentimes in Scripture, “orphan” refers to someone who is looked down on or marginalized. (You can usually find it paired with “widows” who had a similar social status.)

Truthfully, we could just end the post here. The “orphan” God commands us to serve is the forgotten, the marginalized, the least of these.

But today, the world specifies this definition a little. UNICEF and its global partners define an orphan as “a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death.”

Oh. I thought an orphan lost both parents.

It used to be that way. But in the 1990s, as the AIDS pandemic grew to be the number one cause of death worldwide, the term was broadened. Many leading international organizations did this to help show the massive impact of the growing crisis.

So some new terms were developed. “Single orphan” refers to a child who lost one parent, and “double orphan” refers to a child who lost both.

I see. So by that standard, how many orphans are in the world today?

As of 2015 (the last time this number was officially released), nearly 140 million kids around the world were single or double orphans.


Right? But here’s where this becomes even more sobering. This number only includes the kids who have lost one or both parents. There are millions of kids around the world who don’t technically fall into this category but are still in need of family, shelter, or care

Wait… are these children referred to as “social orphans”?

You know your stuff! “Social orphan” is typically a term other countries like Ukraine and Poland use. It refers to a child who may have living parents, but for whatever reason (oftentimes poverty, drugs, abandonment, etc.,) the parents aren’t able to meet their child’s needs.

Here at Lifesong, we typically say “vulnerable children” instead of “social orphan.”

So based on all of this… who is the “orphan” in the name, Lifesong for Orphans?

Glad you asked. It’s our mission to bring joy & purpose to any child in need!

By helping fund adoptions here in the U.S., we help orphans become sons & daughters in loving Christian families.

By providing education, housing, discipleship, and job training in 13 countries around the world, we support orphans—teaching them the Gospel that they might become sons & daughters of the ultimate Father.

And beyond this, we work to prevent orphans—single, double, social, and otherwise—by stimulating family preservation through tuition-free education and sustainable businesses.

Give to help orphaned and vulnerable children know they are seen, known, and loved.

100% of your gift to Lifesong directly helps children in need. TMG Foundation and key partners cover our fundraising and administrative costs, so your entire gift goes where you want it to go.

So how can I get involved? 

Great question. Here are 4 options…

  1. Sponsor a child. Commit to supporting one orphaned or vulnerable child at one of Lifesong’s ministry sites around the world. Your monthly commitment supports the child in 4 ways: supplies them food, clothing, medical care, and shelter; teaches them the Gospel and how to live as a follower of Christ; provides them a quality education as a foundation for their future; and ensures they have continued love and support as they become an adult.
  2. Support adopting families. Adoption funding and fees are one of the main reasons families don’t follow through with adoption. By giving to support adoption, you remove that major hurdle and help an orphan become a son or daughter.
  3. Pray about adoption. Take the plunge! We have some great resources to get you started.
  4. Get involved with foster care. Pray about it, then start moving forward in faith. The Forgotten Initiative, our foster care advocate ministry, has some helpful resources to consider while you navigate this decision.

Support orphans at home and around the world.