'Man cannot live by bread alone,' the adage related to Prophet Hazrat Isa (Jesus), peace be upon him, sums up the ingredients necessary to nurture human beings as wholesome individuals.
Food, clothing and shelter may be necessary elements of physical existence. But to bring about a human being in this world, social and emotional bonding is sine qua none.
A study conducted on inmates of Muslim orphanages by Islamic Voice in association with Trends Research and Analysis Centre (TRAC) shows that growing up in an orphanage inhibits both early mental and physical development. The study shows that foster care can undo these negative effects to a certain degree, especially in case of girls.
The study covered 154 inmate-students in three orphanages in Mumbai, Pune and Mahabaleshwar. They were studying between first and 10th standard.The researchers tested their verbal skills, intelligence, emotional and behavioral problems, and the physical characteristics. They have found significant differences between boys and girls.
The findings about inmates in orphanages under Muslim management were tallied with those that provided foster care in orphanages. One of latter kind orphanages in Lonavla follows the system of putting a group of six orphans under the care of a foster-mother.
IQ tests conducted on inmates aged 5 to 15 in these two different kind of orphanages reveals a world of difference. Girl-inmates in orphanages offering foster care scored an average of 82, while those who lived in institutions without foster mothers, scored only 70. On the other hand, boys scored an average of 65 in foster care and 60 without foster care. It could be borne in mind that the average IQ score in general population is around 100. The low score of IQ among orphans is mainly due to psychological gaps in their upbringing.
One possible answer was given by Charles Zeanah of Tulane University in New Orleans. He studied emotional and behavioral disorders among fostered and institutionalized children and found that boys were more affected by behavioral disorders (such as hyperactivity and aggression) while girls were more likely to suffer from emotional disorders (such as anxiety and depression).
“Many children raised in orphanage are characterized by a variety of risk factors known to be associated with risk of psychiatric disorders," says Charles Zeanah. "That includes impoverished families of origin, limited prenatal care, prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs, as well as social and material deprivation after birth."
According to Zeanah the human brain doesn't fully develop until approximately the age of 20, the most critical period of brain development being the first 3–4 years. “The processes that govern the development of personality traits, stress response and cognitive skills are formed during this period. The developing brain is directly influenced by negative environmental factors including lack of stimulation due to emotional neglect, poor nutrition, exposure to violence in the home environment and child abuse” he said.
Dana Johnson from the University of Minnesota and her colleagues studied the physical development of orphanage inmates. They have found that their development was delayed - the children had noticeably lower levels of natural growth hormones. They have also discovered that in case of girls puberty was delayed, on an average, by two years, while in case of boys it was delayed by 18 months.
These extensive studies show that growing up in an orphanage can substantially stall early cognitive and physical development. Although providing foster care within the orphanage premises may have some mitigating influence.
According to the TRAC study there are two major Issues faced by orphans living in the orphanage. First it was observed widely that those who live in orphanage have a feeling of being rejected and abandoned by their birth parents. This is accompanied by feelings of grief and loss. There is no set time or age when these feeling surface but, sooner or later, they do.
Secondly a feeling of loss and rejection was also accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. Amongst most of the inmates of orphanages there is an understandable tendency to think that "something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have given me away." It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support in the orphanage.
Community is spending huge amount and resources in managing the orphanages throughout the country. Introducing foster care within the existing orphanages will have dual benefit. First foster care is extremely helpful in reducing guilt, anxiety, depression and fear about being abandoned. Secondly, destitute women such as widows and divorcee can be appointed as foster mother who can look after the group of five to eight orphans within the orphanage premises. This will support destitute women also who have nowhere to go.
Although orphans require financial and physical support, what most of them really miss is love and care. As per Islamic traditions, the best Muslim home is the one where an orphan is treated in a loving and affectionate manner, and the worst is the one where he is deprived of love and treated cruelly.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Holy Prophet on Orphans
Holy companion Sahl ib Saad (ra), narrates from the Holy Prophet that “Whoever supports an orphan, he will be as close to me in the heaven as these fingers are close to each other.” While reporting this, Sahl made a motion of his index and middle fingers bringing them together with only a small space between them.