Back to Africa Check

Estimate of 5.5 million orphans in South Africa 'old and outdated'

This article is more than 8 years old

A file picture of babies at an orphanage in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Photo: AFP/Fati Moalusi A file picture of babies at an orphanage in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Photo: AFP/Fati Moalusi

Just how many orphans are there in South Africa?

In an article for website Daily Maverick, children’s rights activist Robyn Wolfson Vorster wrote that government policy should foremostly help prevent vulnerable children from becoming the target of child traffickers.

Quoting data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), Wolfson Vorster said "South Africa has an estimated 3.5-million orphans, which could in fact be as many as 5.5-million depending on which statistic you believe".

But the latter statistic should not be believed at all. In a fact-sheet on orphan numbers, Africa Check previously established that the 5.5 million figure was a projection made by the Actuarial Society of South Africa in 2003.

Leigh Johnson, an actuary and epidemiologist at University of Cape Town’s Centre for Actuarial Research, and also a member of the Actuarial Society, told Africa Check then that he "would very strongly discourage journalists and researchers ... from citing projections from old reports, as these projections were prepared at a time when there was a lot of uncertainty about the future rollout of antiretroviral treatment.

“The actual rollout of ART has been much more extensive than we originally anticipated and the drugs have also been much more effective than expected, so the earlier projections have definitely overstated trends in AIDS mortality and levels of orphanhood."

A study published last year by the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town put the number of South African children that have lost both parents at 812,000, with 611,000 children having lost their mothers and another 2.13-million children their fathers. - 14/08/2015


Additional reading

FACTSHEET: How many orphans are there in South Africa?

Republish our content for free

Please complete this form to receive the HTML sharing code.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.