Global Orphan Population

orphanpopulationmap4Several years ago, one of my friends put together a blog on orphans, as orphans are very close to her heart. Although I cannot say the same, I had taken several mapping courses in college and had wanted to apply my mapping skills to something socially active, so I pounced on the chance to construct a Sqlite database that contained orphan population data for each country.

What was most astonishing was that the data did not already exist. UNICEF publishes these kinds of statistics, but for half of the countries, it seems, there was no data on the orphan population. In my database I started recording the sources of each figure because metadata and accuracy are so very important when building out maps like this. And I don’t believe the problem is happening at the UN level, I believe it is happening at the state level. We cannot be sure these administrations have the budget or even the resources to accurately assess these statistics.

To be fair, tackling any statistic about an entire country must be incredibly difficult. Statisticians rely on data models to produce reasonably sound estimates, but actual person-by-person counting is impossible. Statistics may be easier to gather as the information age continues to blossom, but the United States can’t completely force people to submit their information in the census. The IRS is probably the only government structure with the budget to come close to forcing every individual to file their information, but even they do not have the budget to audit everyone.

All this to say, gathering statistics is extremely difficult. And I have seen widely varying figures for these orphan statistics, too. Some people disagree on the definition, and some countries disagree on who counts as a nation state! The United Nations list differs from the CIA World Factbook.

And, for those familiar with relational databases, the join in my query likely does not perfectly match the country names in my dataset. I found this out with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where one source had “Congo (Democratic Republic of the)” and the other had “Democratic Republic of the Congo”. Apparently there are a few ISO standards for each country, but getting people to adhere to those–to even know about those–cannot be an easy task.

I may look for a way to open-source my data table. Scouring the internet for figures on each country is not easy. Tackling each continent separately is probably a better approach.


It is generally considered bad practice to include more than five or six ranges on an Equal Interval map such as this, but I chose to break it down into groups of 500,000 because there is so much variance in the data. There are several enormous outliers, such as India and Kenya, and I did not want to mash these together with countries that actually have significantly fewer orphans.