Tens of millions of African orphans are in need of support and care from a loving, stable family said experts testifying at a D.C. congressional hearing on the orphan crisis on the continent. “Behind every statistic about orphaned children, behind the pie charts and graphs, there is also a portrait in miniature,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R- N.J.), “a lonely child who is left without a mother or a father, perhaps dealing each night with the pangs of hunger pain, or just seeking a place where one can lay one’s head down in safety until the morning comes.” “These children are in need of love and compassion, of simple needs being met,” he continued as he introduced speakers for a July 16 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, which he chairs. “Those who do find loving homes and families are truly the lucky ones,” the congressman emphasized. “There is a little soul, a young person, whose inherent dignity has been scarred in a world itself wounded, where there is so much pain, suffering and darkness.” Robert P. Jackson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary with the Bureau of African Affairs for the U.S. Department of State testified that more than 17.8 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS alone, and that conflicts around the continent have also left children as orphans.

In addition, he said, many children in conflict-ridden areas are vulnerable to recruitment as child soldiers. Dr. Shimwaayi Muntemba, Founder of Zambia Orphans Aid, an orphan aid organization added that oftentimes poverty, illness and natural disasters contribute to children losing one or both of their parents, leaving more than 50 million children and a humanitarian crisis that will last for decades if the many health and well-being needs of these children are not addressed. Kelly Tillotson Dempsey, General Counsel and Director of Advocacy and Outreach for Both Ends Burning — a child advocacy organization — said that international adoption could be an important tool in protecting orphans. She explained that “every child needs and deserves a family,” and stressed that there was a “staggering need” for children to be placed in loving homes. However, she noted that oftentimes, the current layout of State Department international adoption regulations hinders families’ abilities to adopt children in need of stable homes. “Adoption is much more than a simple immigration matter and we must promulgate a foreign policy that does more for children in need,” she stressed. Dempsey recommended the creation of a separate bureau or organization within the State Department that would help streamline exit and entry visas and help the thousands upon thousands of orphans caught in “limbo” in the adoption process. Nancy E. Lindborg , Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance for the U.S. Agency for International Development said that while placement with a family — either adoptive or that of extended relatives — is ideal, there are other steps that can be taken to help children who can’t be placed in new homes. Lindborg stressed the need for basic health care, nutrition and education to help children thrive and grow, as well as a safe and non-violent environment. The U.S. Agency for International Development, she said, provides a variety of programs that help families and children that face “violence, abuse and neglect face fundamental threats to their survival, well-being, and future.” “If we do not focus on the child, we lose the person. Investments in a strong start for Africa’s children are critical to laying a foundation for a healthy, productive future for Africa itself,” she warned.