Orphanage Trafficking and Orphanage Voluntourism
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are so many children placed in orphanages in countries like Nepal?
The initial rise in orphanages in developing countries cannot be attributed to the same factors. Context specific history, poverty, natural disasters, epidemics (such as AIDS) and conflicts are all things connected to the global rise in orphanages. However, in most cases, one of the reasons that their numbers continue to grow is the availability and willingness of paying orphanage voluntourists and well-intentioned charities that wish to support orphanages and children’s homes. The funds which these individuals and charities provide fuel the orphanage business. In Nepal, the rise in orphanages and children’s homes has followed a similar trajectory to other parts of the developing world: poverty, lack of educational opportunities, changing laws that allowed orphanages to conduct international adoptions, and the 10- year civil war. Parents began to send their children to what they perceived were safer and better conditions. They were often persuaded to do so by traffickers claiming that they could provide these things to children, when in fact they were exploiting the vulnerability of families for personal profit. Although the conflict is now over, people continue to send their children away through traffickers, believing that they are actually sending their children to safe boarding schools. Orphanage voluntourism incentivizes those involved in the burgeoning orphanage industry to bring children from villages to orphanages in the city and tourist areas. In some cases it even encourages managers to deny the children proper care, because the worse conditions the children appear to be in, the more they will pull at the heart strings of volunteers, thus making it easier for the orphanages to solicit donations
Are children in orphanages really “orphans”? Is it good for them to be placed in orphanages and children’s homes?
Studies conducted by the Government of Nepal, the United Nations and NGOs have shown that the majority of children in orphanages and children’s homes in Nepal are not in fact “orphans”; an estimated two out of three children in orphanages and children’s homes have at least one living parent.4 NGN concurs with international and Nepali laws and policies that the institutionalization of children should only be used as a last and temporary resort when all other options have failed; staying within the family unit is the best option for the vast majority of children. 5 The institutionalization of children in orphanages and children’s homes has many negative effects on the physical, emotional and psychological development of children. It leaves children more vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Even in circumstances where children leave an orphanage having received an education, they have often lost all contact with their families, communities, local languages and so on. This dislocation from families makes it harder for youth to inherit land, and ask for their families support to find jobs and arrange marriages; things which are culturally very important in Nepal and are the responsibility of the family. Many young people who grew up in orphanages and children’s homes in Nepal end up being unemployed and resentful about their childhood experiences. In some cases, NGN has even witnessed ex-orphanage youth turning to orphanage trafficking because it is the only business they know; and hence the orphanage trafficking cycle continues. Put another way, the argument is simple: if asked the question, the vast majority of people would say that they would rather grow up in the care of a poor but loving family than in the anonymity of a children’s home. Wherever possible, all efforts should be made to keep children with their families.
Are all orphanages and children’s homes in Nepal trafficking and displacing children? Which are the “good” orphanages?
Even though two out of three children in orphanages and children’s homes in Nepal are not orphans , and only 10 percent of homes meet the Government’s own minimum standards9 , it would not be accurate to say that every children’s home is trafficking or displacing children. Some children’s homes and orphanages are very well run. However, even some of these so-called “well run” homes may have unknowingly and indirectly displaced children from their families (because a trafficker may have brought them “destitute” children without telling them the truth about the children’s background). The problem for tourists—and even for Government agencies and NGOs working in this area—is that it is very difficult to identify the few “good” orphanages from the “dishonest” ones without a full and detailed investigation, which is of course near impossible for tourists to do. For this reason NGN advises against orphanage voluntourism except in special circumstances (see sections 9, 10 and 11 below). Some children’s homes and orphanages have taken positive steps to actively search for the families of children, and then reconnect and reunify these children with their families. NGN endorses this approach and we approve of people who financially support these kinds of organizations. The Umbrella Foundation is one such “good” child care organization which has changed its focus towards the reconnection and reunification of children in its care—see http://umbrellanepal.org/. There are a number of good organizations in Nepal which have followed a similar path, and efforts should be made to support them in this process
—Next Generation Nepal has prepared this briefing paper in which they answer the most frequently asked questions they receive about orphanage trafficking and orphanage voluntourism.