In the United States, child abandonment is defined as a parent or guardian deserting a child or not providing them with the necessary care. It can involve anything from child neglect to dropping a child off at a destination (such as a fire station or a public place) and leaving.
Child abandonment is a critical and dangerous issue both in the United States and worldwide. To educate you on the topic, we’ve compiled 25 child abandonment statistics and facts.
Gain insights into the shocking rates, severe consequences, and national as well as global trends, including child trafficking and effective prevention strategies.
Key Facts About Child Abandonment
Below are five interesting facts about child abandonment:
- There is no official record of the amount of children abandoned worldwide.
- About 7,000 children are abandoned annually in the U.S.
- There is a strong link between children who are abandoned and children who are trafficked.
- Child abandonment victims may experience long-lasting effects, including fear of abandonment in adulthood.
- In the U.S., all 50 states have enacted the Infant Safe Haven Law, allowing parents to safely surrender their newborns without facing consequences or prosecution.
25 Child Abandonment Statistics and Facts
Child abandonment is a serious and dangerous cruelty issue worldwide. Below are 25 critical statistics and facts about child abandonment. We sourced them from official studies and government research, so you can be sure the information is accurate and up to date.
Worldwide Child Abandonment Facts
Child abandonment is not just an issue in the United States but across the whole world. It’s important to note that child abandonment encompasses a range of issues, including child neglect and maltreatment.
Many countries do not have official statistics about child abandonment, making it hard to understand the exact data. Despite this, we’re going to look at the available child abandonment facts in various countries, including America.
- Worldwide orphans: There are about 140 million orphans worldwide (1). However, this number does not include children who have been abandoned, as UNICEF does not record this statistic.
- SOS Villages for abandoned children: SOS Children’s Villages is an organization that builds stable homes for abandoned children in 135 countries, including the U.S. (2). They also work to prevent child abandonment.
- Abandonment takes many forms: Abandonment doesn’t always mean a child is dropped off somewhere and left. It also includes being left alone for periods of time, ignored, neglected, and forced to live in dirty places (3). Child abandonment also includes psychological neglect. Abandoned children often wander around during the day and have to find their own shelter at night. To protect themselves, they may be forced into illegal activities like child labor or stealing.
- American statistics: About 7,000 children are abandoned annually in the U.S.
- Percentage of abandoned children in institutions: In Western Europe, only four percent of children in institutions were abandoned (4). In Central and Eastern Europe, 32 percent of children in institutions were abandoned.
- Numbers of abandoned children in Europe: A few countries responded to an EU project about child abandonment. Slovakia had the highest number of abandoned children, with 4.9 per 1,000 births, followed by the Czech Republic, with 4.1 per 1,000 births.
- Baby abandonment in 2021: In the U.S., there were 31 cases of illegal infant abandonment in 2021 (5). Thirty-one babies were found in dumpsters, backpacks, and other dangerous locations. The death rate was high, with only nine babies surviving.
Child Trafficking and Exploitation Statistics
Many children who are abandoned end up being trafficked, exploited, or enter into prostitution. We’re going to take a look at six statistics about child trafficking and exploitation.
- The link between abandonment and trafficking: A large percentage of orphans are abandoned by their parents. When these children age out of the care system, they are more vulnerable to trafficking, drug use, and prostitution (6). This perpetuates the cycle of getting pregnant and having to abandon your child due to poverty and exploitation.
- Child trafficking in China: In China, it’s estimated that each year, tens to hundreds of thousands of children are abandoned (7). Many of these children end up being trafficked. In China, there were 40,825 cases of families looking for a missing person. Over 16,000 of these cases were child abandonment cases.
- Male vs female abandoned children: In China, 70 percent of abandoned children are girls, but 70 percent of trafficked children are boys. The market price for a boy is higher than the market price for a girl. This aligns with the son preference in China, which is a centuries-old preference for sons rooted in Chinese culture (8). It’s believed that men are more valuable than women.
- Abandoned children and trafficking in Romania: The U.S. found that Romania had an extreme forced labor crisis, with an increase from 319 children victims to 370 from 2011 to 2012 (9). When children are abandoned, they are often left to roam around on the streets and beg for money, making them extremely vulnerable to trafficking.
- Percentage of trafficking victims: Worldwide, 27 percent of trafficking victims are children (10). This accounts for almost four million kids.
- Child exploitation: There are more than 29 million reports of child sexual exploitation (a form of abandonment, neglect and abuse) each year in the U.S. (11). This includes child pornography, including both digital material and computer-generated images. The U.S. is one of the largest producers and consumers of child exploitation materials in the world.
Consequences of Child Neglect
Children who have been abandoned and neglected face lifelong consequences. Below are six ways child neglect harms a person throughout their life.
- Effects on behavior: When a child is neglected or ignored, this disrupts how their brain processes information (12). In turn, they are more likely to display behavioral, cognitive, and emotional disorders.
- Increased risk of mental health disorders: Children who have been abandoned have experienced threats that can activate the biological stress response system. This can impact proper development, and later in life, these children can experience anxiety, depression, and even chronic illnesses.
- Failure to thrive: Children who have been victims of neglect may experience developmental delays, low self-esteem, and behaviors including running away from home and substance abuse (13).
- Abandoned Child Syndrome: There is a recognized name for children who have been abandoned by one or both parents. It’s called Abandoned Child Syndrome, and it is a behavioral or psychological condition (14). Symptoms include isolation, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and even addiction (15).
- Children end up in institutions: Children who are abandoned often end up in institutions. While many children are happy in foster care, research has found that, depending on the living conditions of these institutions, children are at even greater risk of adverse effects, especially if they don’t have a loving, constant caregiver.
- Fear of abandonment in adulthood: Adults who were abandoned as a child often grow up with abandonment fears (16). They may experience intense fear of losing loved ones. Fear of abandonment is a form of anxiety that involves behaviors such as pleasing people, pushing people away, codependency, and frequent physical illness.
Prevention and Community Initiatives
Child abandonment doesn’t have to exist. There are many ways we can all help to prevent children from being abandoned, with outstanding initiatives in place already. Let’s take a look at six initiatives and prevention tactics. Many of these organizations are looking for volunteers and donations, so check out their sites to see how you can get involved.
- Infant Safe Haven Laws: All 50 states have laws that allow parents to leave their newborn babies in certain places without being prosecuted (17). It allows parents in crisis to leave their babies in designated locations where they will have access to proper care until they can get a permanent home (18). The parent can remain anonymous. In 46 states, either parent can surrender the baby, but in four states, only the mother can.
- Prevention in Europe: In the EU, many actions are being taken to prevent child abandonment, including social assistance, day-care facilities, mother-baby units, family planning services, and helplines.
- Preventing poverty: The number one cause of child abandonment is poverty (19). SOS Children’s Villages takes donations in order to empower children and provide homes, food, water, and education to those affected by child abandonment and poverty (20).
- The Charis Project: The Charis Project helps families stay together and parents welcome their children home (21). They help families experiencing crisis pregnancy, sick parents, and unemployment. They educate parents on healthy pregnancies, positive parenting, and sexual abuse prevention. And they help families become free of debt and plan for the future. You can join the Welcome Home Movement by donating.
- The Prevention Resource Guide: Since child abandonment is the most drastic form of child abuse, the Prevention Resource Guide by the Department of Health and Human Services was created to support people passionate about family well-being and the prevention of child abuse (22). It offers important and helpful information about how agencies engage and support families. It outlines the importance of being educated on child abuse and how families can be strengthened so that children’s needs are met.
- Prevent Child Abuse America: Prevent Child Abuse America is the country’s largest organization for preventing child abuse and neglect before it begins (23). They have almost 600 home-visiting sites which equip parents and caregivers with services and resources. They raise public awareness and offer support programs so kids and parents can get the help they need.
Child Abandonment Is an Ongoing Crisis
After reviewing these 25 child neglect statistics and facts, it’s clear that child abuse and abandonment is a serious global issue. We’ve provided information, rates, and cases about child abandonment and how it has severe consequences into adulthood. There are a few significant initiatives for preventing child abandonment; however, each country still has a lot of work to do before it’s no longer a worldwide crisis.