In July 1917 French legislators conferred a special legal status on those children whose parent(s) had died or been brutally mutilated while defending the patrie: pupille de la nation. In metropolitan France, the state, working closely with preexisting philanthropic organizations, would develop a system of provision for these children based on a legal right to full compensation for the loss they had endured. In the colonies, however, the application of the program would prove far more problematic. This article uses the correspondence between the Ministry of the Colonies and colonial administrators across the empire to trace the debate surrounding a possible colonial version of the program. It contends that colonial administrators mobilized racial prejudice and cultural particularism, to different extents in different colonies, in order to water down the state's duty of care to its child victims of war, the pupilles de l'empire.

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