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Sarah Lawrence College

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Program Name

Mali: Gender, Health, and Development


The family constitutes the nucleus of life in the country of Mali. Within the family, great importance is especially placed on children. Children’s central and vital role within the family is based on their ability to contribute both economically and domestically, whether it be helping with cooking and cleaning at home or assisting with the economic activities of the family, such as farming or selling goods. It is, therefore, especially striking and shocking to see children who have no home or family within this country which places such high value on them. The problem of orphaned and abandoned children in Mali is systemic and growing. However, it is indicative of an even greater issue, being that Mali’s current state of economic development continues to rank it amongst the poorest nations in the world. When I began my research for this project, I had a very broad idea of what I would be studying. My goal was to identify the organizations and services provided for orphans in Bamako, with a plan of comparing different institutional approaches to caring for orphans and examining the challenges these organizations face. What I soon discovered, however, was that the way one views and defines the term “orphan” in Mali is very different from the way orphans are viewed in the United States. The term “orphan” in the United States is defined as a child who has lost his/her family and, therefore, is forced to reside in an orphanage or institution. In Mali, however, the majority of the children who are living in institutions are not “orphans” by any U.S. definition, but rather children who have been abandoned. An orphan in Mali “is a child that has lost one or both of his/her parents” (UNICEF 2006, 22). Most often, these children remain with extended family. Given this distinction between orphans and abandoned children, I was forced to approach my research from a slightly different angle. While I still wished to study the institutions providing services to “abandoned” children, I realized that there were issues surrounding the care and keeping of “orphans” which I had not previously considered. Keeping these two distinct groups in mind, I set out to understand the major differences between orphans and abandoned children and what services and institutions are available to both these children and their families. I especially wanted to examine the challenges these institutions face in caring for children and how the situation might be improved.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Sociology | Sociology of Culture


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