The phrase “orphan crisis” usually brings to mind the faces of children, but every orphaned child bears the story of a vulnerable mother. If we are serious about impacting the orphan crisis, then we must acknowledge the inextricable link of orphans and vulnerable women. Not all orphanages, or orphan care organizations, believe in holistic orphan care, which grants dignity and real transformative opportunity not only to orphaned children, but to vulnerable women as well.
In Congo (where my children are adopted from and where our ministry Mwana Villages is currently serving) and similar regional countries, high gender inequality means that women remain a particularly vulnerable group with few opportunities for employment or education. Women become even more marginalized when they have children but are single, unwed or widowed. Even if married, widowed mothers lose all rights to their home, land, and assets while retaining responsibility for their children. With few options available to supporting their family, many of these women must choose between abandoning their children or turning to prostitution or begging as a means of income. In extreme desperation, abandonment is a route too often taken while many children are also faced with abuse, neglect or severe malnourishment. This harsh reality means that one in five children do not live to see their fifth birthday in the Congo.
But let us be part of changing that reality…It involves commitment to reunification. It means digging into the hard social histories and complicated lives of vulnerable women. It means seeing adoption as a last resort when we are certain reunification is not possible. It means creativity and perseverance to come alongside women in promoting self-sufficiency. And while the work is difficult, we CAN enable more orphan prevention.