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Cadbury South Africa’s 3.7 million orphans claim based on old data

This article is more than 4 years old

  • A Cadbury marketing campaign encouraged people to donate toys for South Africa’s 3.7 million orphans.

  • The 3.7 million figure has been shared by Unicef, and is outdated.

  • Recent Stats SA data puts the figure at 2.3 million orphans – 1.2 million have lost their father, 460,308 have lost their mother, and 374,520 have lost both parents.

A paper plane is the “closest thing to a toy” South African orphans may ever have, according to a May 2019 marketing campaign by chocolate company Cadbury.

It claims that “for some of the 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, toys and the important part they play in childhood are simply not there”.

The 3.7 million figure has been used on Cadbury South Africa’s social media accounts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

South Africa has a population of about 57.7 million people. Does it include that many orphans?

Outdated statistic on Unicef website

Cadbury South Africa did not respond to Africa Check’s queries about the source of the statistic.

An online search found the figure of 3.7 million orphans on the website of Unicef, the UN Children’s fund.  We contacted Unicef, who said that their website needed to be updated.

Rayana Rassool, Unicef’s communication for development specialist, said that they planned to replace the old statistic with new government data.

What makes an ‘orphan’?

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the country’s data agency, defines an orphan as a child younger than 18 who has lost one or both of their parents to any cause of death. The death of both parents is not required for a child to be considered an orphan.

The 2011 census estimated there were 3.4 million orphans. The 2016 community survey pointed to a decrease, estimating South Africa had 2.4 million orphans.

The most recent data, from the 2018 general household survey, estimates that about 11.7% of children younger than 18 are orphans. This is around 2,254,886 children.

Orphans have different experiences

The experiences of orphans in South Africa varies, according to the Children’s Institute, a research and advocacy group based at the University of Cape Town.

“Orphan status is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of care that children receive,” the institute says in its 2018 South African Child Gauge report.

“It is important to disaggregate the total orphan figures because the death of one parent may have different implications for children than the death of both parents.”

Data from Stats SA shows that most orphans in South Africa are paternal orphans - their father is dead, but their mother is alive.

Lori Lake, a communications and education specialist at the institute, told Africa Check that orphans should not automatically assumed to be “at risk”. She said that the vast majority of orphans live with adult family members.

Conclusion: Cadbury campaign overstates number of orphans in South Africa

A Cadbury South Africa marketing campaign claimed there were 3.7 million orphans in South Africa.  The same statistic has been shared online by Unicef.

But Statistics South Africa’s most recent general household survey estimated there were 2.3 million orphans in the country in 2018. Of those, 374,520 had lost both parents.


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