Volumes of research attest to the fact that economic dependency, and other forms of “structural violence,” have taken their toll on societies, especially in developing countries. The fallout of these processes now contributes to the vulnerability of billions of people around the globe. Among the most vulnerable populations are orphaned children. Experts estimate a global population of 163 million orphans, and counting. Yet, little is known about who these children are or about their lived experiences, in their households and societies, after the death of their parents.
This dissertation explores the world of the “invisible” orphan, and the impact of protracted out-migration and other social and economic stressors, on the lives of orphans and their families in Garifuna communities. By using the household as the unit of analysis, and by incorporating the feedback from children and other stakeholders, I examine the causes and consequences of orphaning in six Garifuna settlements in Honduras and Belize.
Findings demonstrate that profound structural changes are occurring within families due to out-migration, especially of women. Protracted migratory practices have led to fragmented family units, and impacted where, how, and with whom, orphans are raised. Consequently, orphaned siblings are separated with regularity, and older orphans are a group in dire need of targeted assistance. As for the causes of orphaning, results show that HIV/AIDS is not the primary cause of maternal deaths. Other factors, such as cancers and strokes, contribute greatly to female mortality.
Data also revealed that although the majority of households were found to be “Adaptive,” which means that they possess relatively stable material resources, they were heavily dependent on remittances and other external assistance. For the care of orphans, many households have shifted from traditional, planned approaches, to reactive emergency fostering methods. Despite laudable coping strategies, I found that orphans often face their problems without access to psychological counseling. However, although the reciprocal relationships within families were severely strained, they were not severed, especially in the rural areas. This indicates that with the proper supports, many caregiver households may be able to mitigate some of the damage from years of migration.