Child sponsorship allows an individual, typically in a developed country, to sponsor, or fund a child in a developing country until the child becomes self-sufficient. This could mean financially supporting the education, health or security of the sponsored child, or in some cases all of these. This could also mean contributing more widely to the child's community developing without directly helping an individual child.
Children International was one of the earlier child sponsorship charities (starting in 1936), Plan USA (started in 1937) and ChildFund (started in 1938) followed suit as the concept grew in popularity.
Child sponsorship process
After choosing a child to sponsor, the charitable organization that manages the sponsorship typically sends information about the child to the sponsor. These organizations direct money to, and manage communication between sponsored children and their sponsors, including translating letters, and in some cases ensuring that the communications are appropriate. Some organizations pay school fees and other educational needs for the sponsored children and hold a weekly club which includes a supplemental meal, educational and health topics, counseling, and teaching.
There is a distinct difference in how programs are operated. Some organizations have actual family homes where the children without parental care are housed, clothed, fed, educated, and nurtured, while others distribute funds to parents, and some, sign up all the children in the catchment area of a community development project such as a medical centre.Some organizations provide a more individualized approach to helping children and their families.
A study, "Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes," was published in the Journal of Political Economy in April 2013 by Bruce Wydick, et al. The study used data exclusively from child sponsorship organization, Compassion International, in six of its countries. The researchers found that "large, statistically significant impacts" on education and the amount and quality of employment. The researchers believe the data points to sponsorship increasing a child's aspirations. 
Another study, titled "Donors' experience of sustained charitable giving: a phenomenological study," was written by Gerard Maggie. It focused on volunteer donors and their overall experience when sponsoring a disadvantaged child of their choice. Phenomenology, the way in which human being come to understand things, is simply defined as ones own direct experiences, and in this case, experiences with disadvantaged children. 
How sponsorship funds are used
Some major child sponsorship organizations use the funds given for community development and do not claim any direct benefit to the child. Others use the funds directly for the child and their immediate community or family, others again are somewhere in between, with the child benefiting from a wider community project such as a school or medical centre.
Critics have argued that child sponsorship could alienate the relatively privileged sponsored children from their peers and may perpetuate harmful stereotypes about third-world citizens being helpless. They also claim that child sponsorship causes cultural confusion and unrealistic aspirations on the part of the recipient, and that child sponsorship is expensive to administer. This latter problem has led some charities to offer information about a "typical" child to sponsors rather than one specifically supported by the sponsor.
Many organizations run child sponsorship programs all over the world in 3rd world countries, including 30  based in the UK alone. Some of the more notable ones are:
- Baptist World Aid
- Child In Need Institute (CINI)
- ChildFund International
- Children International
- Compassion International
- Distressed Children & Infants International
- Every Child Ministries
- Food for the Hungry
- Human Concern International
- International Childcare Trust
- Partners in Aid
- Save the Children
- SOS Children
- Thai Children's Trust
- World Vision
- Children International Website "About Us" accessed February 2, 2011
- Plan USA , accessed February 2, 2011
- Child Fund "About Us", accessed February 2, 2011
- Journal of Political Economy, April 2013.
- Journal of Consumer Marketing, 2013.
- Simply...Why you should not sponsor a child, New Internationalist, April 1989.
- Peter Stalker, Please do not sponsor this child, New Internationalist, May 1982
- List of UK Child Sponsorship Charities .
- The Rough Guide to a Better World a publication which was partly UK government funded, reviewing some types of sponsorship, including arguments for and against (pp83f).