Claims of a million earthquake orphans are clearly false and those making them are being irresponsible.
Does anyone remember the Boxing Day Tsunami? Of course at SOS Children we do because we still have some five hundred children who were orphaned by it living in loving families in our villages. Five hundred children out of final estimates of between five and six thousand children orphaned by a tsunami which killed 230,000 people all together. Most of those orphaned ended up with their extended family, often with some financial help. Country by country numbers of orphans were equal to about 2-3% of the total death toll. Many children died with their families and many were separated from family but reunited. We cared for and counselled 9000 children in our short term shelters, many of whom were placed there briefly by parents still searching for siblings. Numbers from the Kashmir earthquake are harder to find but about 85000 people died and we (having been temporary guardian of every unaccompanied child in Kashmir) went from thousands short term down to 300 who were left permanently needing a new home in our villages (many of these are still unsponsored). So the number of orphans was again about 2-3% of the death toll and perhaps 0.4% of the death toll gives the number who cannot be accommodated into extended families.
The reason though I want to remind you about the Asian tsunami is to remind you that ten days afterwards stories were circulating in the media claiming 1.5 million affected children "mostly orphans". That claim and the one of ship loads of Thai child snatchers landing on beaches turned out to be part of the myth that arose and disappeared. The cynical amongst us might say part of an attempt to whip up human emotions in an unfair way. The problem with people whipping up emotions for a quick buck is the trouble is causes those of us who actually do need to look after the needs of orphaned and abandoned children, because it confuses what actual donors and sponsors need to know.
Memories it seems are short in the media. Already we have stories of 200,000 dead with a million earthquake orphans. I have even seen a UK tabloid claim "2 million earthquake orphans" (do people on the highstreet buy the paper with the higher number?). Okay, schools were out when the earthquake struck, okay offices were at work and breadwinners were killed, perhaps disproportionately. Perhaps the figure might be 5% or even 10% of the total death toll. But whoever (and the media is quoting "aid agencies" without attribution) is claiming a million orphans is not doing the children of Haiti and their needs any favours. They may get more short term sympathy and money from these claims but the reality is that providing a loving home to every child orphaned by a major earthquake is within our reach. And credibility will be dented as before when all becomes clear. The less accurate and more exaggerated the figures, the more risk of rapid removal of children, who may still have parents searching for them, from their country, their culture and their family. Some children already in the process of adoption out of Haiti should of course be allowed to leave. Perhaps ones already identified as orphans before the earthquake. But children who may have just been orphaned should be cared for, counselled and loved locally, whilst family is traced and their best interest considered. It only takes a small number of thoughtful westerner sponsors for them to have another chance in life.