Besides tracking trends and patterns, data on orphans can be a very powerful general indicator to create awareness of the scope of the problem and the impact of an AIDS epidemic on society.
One limitation of this measure is that it is not able to distinguish AIDS-related orphanhood from orphanhood due to other causes. However, since young adult mortality was stable or falling in most countries for some years before the arrival of HIV, it is not unreasonable to assume that the bulk of any rise in orphanhood over baseline levels is attributable to HIV (if there is no other reason, such as armed conflict, for a high rate of young adult mortality).
Orphans may be more mobile than other children. Those most in need of care may be in child-headed households, which do not always qualify for inclusion in a household survey. Households with AIDS-related deaths often completely disintegrate following the death of a household head, and children are sent to live with relatives in the same or another area. Using a household survey and asking about whether the parents are still alive will provide information about caring practices, and opportunities to alleviate the primary household disintegration problem.
Definitions of orphanhood differ among countries. In some countries, the legal definition includes all children under 18 who have lost their mother. It is suggested that the standard definition given in this indicator be used to allow for comparison across populations. However, countries may also wish to compile an indicator based on their own national definition of orphanhood. The methodology for constructing the indicator remains unchanged.
Parental survival status may be unknown if the child has been separated from the parent for a long time. As with all indicators, the proportion of respondents indicating “don’t know” should also be tabulated.
Analysis and interpretation: This indicator tracks levels of orphanhood in a country. In order to better monitor and target responses to orphans, the data should be disaggregated by gender and age. If the sample size allows, the four age groups 0-4, 5-9, 10-14 and 15-17 are recommended. It is also useful to break down the results into maternal, paternal and double orphanhood.
To get a better idea of care practices, it is important to assess the relationship of the child with the head of the household and the primary caregiver, and to record the gender of the head of the household and the dependency ratio of households with orphans as compared with the dependency ratio of households with children but no orphans.