The sad reality is that some children have no parents to take care of them. When this is the case, someone else might step up to raise them, such as another relative, a family friend, a neighbour, or other members of the community. In cases like that, there is generally no issue—adoption is very common and very accessible across both Dolovai and Kyaine, and generally requires just a simple paper to be filled out by the parents and a priest to confirm that the child in question is now the child of the adoptive parents. If a child is over the age of ten, they will be asked to consent to the adoption as well. In many cases, especially in poorer or more rural communities, the process is even less formal and a person or people can simply become someone’s parents by virtue of taking care of them and loving them, if they so desire, and few people will ever demand to see the paperwork.
But unfortunately, not all orphans are adopted so readily. The options available pertaining to their care vary a little, but there are options. In large cities, orphanages are not hard to come by, and so orphaned children can generally find care and housing there, though the level of care they may receive will depend on the amount of money the orphanage has, of course. Many orphanages are sponsored by local royalty or nobility as acts of charity, which can be a great boon for them, but not all are. A number of smaller orphanages may be run on a very small budget and require donations from the community to stay open and keep the children fed. In rural areas, it is generally not hard to find an orphanage within a few days’ travel, especially in Dolovai, and these are usually also farms that subsist on their own and feed themselves.
Many, many orphanages are associated with churches in some way. Especially in Kyaine, it is not uncommon for rural orphanages to be small monasteries as well, which is generally to the benefit of the children there, as it means they are guaranteed some education along with their upbringing—orphanages run out of churches and monasteries will almost always teach their children to read in addition to other life skills. Orphans who grow up in such orphanages are likely to reach adulthood knowing how to read, having a comprehensive understanding of the Catechism, and, if they were in a rural area, having a lot of ability with farming and other subsistence skills.
Whoever is running the orphanage, it is their duty to care for the children until they can care for themselves. This obviously includes educating and feeding and housing them, but it also, as they get older, means helping them find work for themselves. Many orphanages in cities or large towns will have connections with local craftspeople or guilds and will start to help the orphans find apprenticeships and other work when they are at the age where that is possible, so that once they’re old enough to leave the orphanage, they’ll have the skills to sustain themselves out in the world. Orphanages run by the church always give the children the option of entering the clergy, of course, and a good number of Catechism clergy, including the current High Presbyter, are orphans who grew up in churches or monasteries.
Unfortunately, there are always less savoury orphanages that will encourage their children to work at earlier ages in order to provide money for the orphanage. Depending on the situation, the community may allow this to continue even if they find it unpleasant, because they’ll operate under the assumption that even if the orphans are being exploited, at least they have a safe place to live and someone to take care of them. Some communities may find these circumstances unpleasant enough that they’ll force the orphanage to close or come under new ownership, and of course the amount and type of work being done is also important. Every major city has one orphanage that exists in a very poor area that is rumoured to function as a brothel, but which nobody is willing to provide proof of. In rare cases where that proof is provided, the orphanage will be shut down and the children taken somewhere safer.
Most children who grow up in orphanages feel at least some filial feeling to the children they grew up with, and the people who raised them, and if asked will name them as family. It is also not uncommon, however, for people who grew up in the same orphanage to end up married to each other and to live together after leaving the orphanage. Glassheart Castern has a famous neighbourhood called the Wayfarerer’s Circle that is almost entirely populated by adults who grew up in the local Minstrel’s Orphanage and their descendants, all coming together to continue living in a community after growing up, and continuing to support the orphanage they grew up in together.
Orphanages may be common but they are not all-seeing, and of course many orphans grow up alone or at the very least not in the formal care of an institution. Homelessness is not uncommon in orphans, though the lucky ones will find work at some point and be allowed to live with their employers or at least sleep in the back of the shop or workshop or inn or wherever they’re working. Many orphans end up in brothels or working for organized crime, two industries that are always hiring. Some orphans live in small communities of other orphaned children on the streets, doing what they can to survive until they’re old enough to move on. Many places have persistent rumours of communities of orphaned children who live in the local wilderness, be it caves in some nearby mountains or the forest or swamp, though in most cases there is no evidence that this is true and nobody has ever met someone who grew up in a community like this.
In the north, street-dwelling orphans are habitually sold into slavery when found, and are a source of income for city guards and local bandits. Many orphans have voluntarily sold themselves into slavery in the north, knowing that at least they’ll be fed and reasonably cared for rather than starving to death on the streets. Northern orphans habitually try to make their way south or to White Cape where slavery is illegal, and White Cape as a result has the largest orphan population in Menechit. Unsavoury businesses exist which employ people to go to White Cape and abduct orphans to take them to Merket to be sold as slaves, though these are illegal and are theoretically shut down when discovered. Many orphans in White Cape end up working in the naval trades as sailors and fishermen.
Not all orphans survive their childhoods, though the majority do. The ones who do consider themselves lucky to have done so, but there is no noted correlation between adult orphans and good parenting, unfortunately. Various nobles and royals across Menechit are concerned with the plight of orphans and resolved to do something about it, but it is unclear whether they have ever had or will ever have a demonstrable impact on the lives of children without parents.
Excerpts from “The Social Institutions of Our Time, Modern Edition,” by Moira Marksadder, published at the Academy for Magecraft in Three Hills, DN 1954.