The Progress of Nations

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 The lost children
 Data briefs: Progress and disparity

Out of school: The orphan’s dilemma

Studies in 20 countries, most of them in Africa, confirm what has long been suspected: Children whose parents have died are less likely to attend school than those who have not lost a parent and who are living with at least one parent.

Benin, the Central African Republic and Mozambique have the greatest gaps in school attendance between children who are orphaned and those who are not. In Benin, for example, only 17% of children whose parents have died  attend school, compared to 50% of those with both parents still living. In most of the countries surveyed, the average difference is 19 percentage points. Only Chad and Mali have gaps of less than 10 percentage points.

Many children have both parents alive and well but are still denied their right to education. In Mali and Niger, for example, rates of school attendance for children with both parents alive are 29% and 28%, respectively – the lowest in these surveys and lower than the rates of attendance for orphaned children in many countries.

These figures challenge countries to ensure that the great loss children suffer when parents die does not compromise children’s right to an education. Countries that have managed to narrow the attendance gap have valuable lessons to share.


Rwandan orphans tackle a school assignment. Orphans have less access to services such as health and education than do children with one or both parents living.

Source: DHS,Unicef, 1994-1999

Note: Countries are shown in decreasing order of disparity between children whose parent(s) are living and orphaned children.
Sources: DHS, UNICEF, 1994-1999.
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