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Some background on Burundi

Bettina Keppers will be making her third visit to Burundi in June. The central African country has a population of about 8.7 million, 600,000 of whom are orphan children. That means either one or both of the child's parents have died, Keppers sai...

Bettina Keppers will be making her third visit to Burundi in June.

The central African country has a population of about 8.7 million, 600,000 of whom are orphan children.

That means either one or both of the child's parents have died, Keppers said. Ninety percent of the orphans are being cared for either by their surviving parent or by members of their extended families. The remainder either don't have a family member to care for them, or they've been abandoned.

"The most common reason for the need of adoption of children in Burundi is that they have been abandoned," Keppers said.

The Burundian government recently began allowing international adoptions. Lutheran Social Service envisions 15 adoptions per year to start, and eventually as many as 50, Keppers said. But the bigger focus is on development assistance and reuniting families in cooperation with the government.

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One in seven Burundian children still die before the age of 5, and one in 25 women die in childbirth, Keppers said.

When that happens, it's often impossible for the father to care for the baby, Keppers said. That's because milk costs $30 a month in the market, and the average Burundian's income is only $160 in a year.

Burundi is struggling to recover from war that broke out in 1993-94 after the death of the country's first democratically elected president. The ethnic violence that occurred in Rwanda was mirrored in Burundi, Keppers said. What was called genocide in Rwanda was labeled a civil war in Burundi, although the conflict took 300,000 Burundian lives.

Burundi has been at peace since 2005, but it hasn't received the kind of international attention that has been focused on Rwanda, Keppers said. Because of that, "it's significantly behind where Rwanda is now."

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