People are profiting from the trafficking and abuse of children in orphanages around the world. Attracted by money from donors and “voluntourism,” traffickers are turning children into commodities.
Traffickers dupe poor families into turning over their children with false promises of better care and education.1 These children are often exploited, abused, malnourished, forced to work and sometimes trafficked again to repeat the cycle and bring in more funds.
‘Voluntourism’ has become a popular trend,2 creating a boom in vacation packages involving volunteer work. It’s clear that organizations offering orphanage placements can play a role in ending the cycle of abuse fueled by demand for volunteer placements, which traffickers are exploiting to profit from the mistreatment of vulnerable children.
Join us in asking volunteer tour operators to help stop orphanage trafficking by removing the financial incentive and making a strong statement against orphanage trafficking.
We are asking them to:
- stop offering orphanage placements to volunteers
- publish a statement outlining their commitment to end orphanage child trafficking, and
- join the worldwide movement to ensure children are raised in safe families empowered to care for their own children with the support of partners experienced in child protection.
A positive trend with unexpected consequences
Volunteer placement organizations have assigned thousands of volunteers across the world to projects bringing mutual lasting benefits to volunteers and communities. Although usually a small portion, some offer placements in orphanages.
We are not suggesting that they have placed, or promoted the placement of, volunteers in orphanages which exploit or traffick children. However, we believe their support is crucial to breaking the cycle.3
Troubling stories of abuse & exploitation
An estimated 8 million children are living in orphanages around the world. Yet 80% of them have at least one parent or family member who could look after them, with additional support where needed.4
It’s clear from these numbers that something doesn’t add up.
- In Cambodia, Sinet Chan was repeatedly beaten, raped, starved and forced to work on the orphanage director’s rice paddies and farms without pay. Now, she is a strong ambassador for the Cambodian Children’s Trust, telling her story and raising awareness of the potentially terrible conditions children face in institutions.5
- In Haiti, some families were paid 75 USD to give their children away to orphanages on false promises their children would receive an education and opportunities for the future, only for them to end up living in slave-like conditions.6
- Vulnerable children being separated from their families and placed in orphanages to attract funding, volunteers and donations from well-meaning tourists is replicated across Southeast Asia and has also been reported on in Nepal and across Africa.7,8
- In one case in Nepal, a mother searching for her two children who she believed were in school, found them in an orphanage. The orphanage director then extorted the mother and insisted she pay him 144,000 rupees (1,440 USD) before he would release her children.9
Families living in poverty are vulnerable to being tricked into selling or giving their children to orphanages with false promises of better care and education. Yet, even in well-resourced orphanages, destroying lasting family-based relationships has serious detrimental effects on long-term development and psychological well-being. It should only ever be used as temporary care and as the last resort.
Community-based approaches: a better alternative
“He dressed us up looking poor so the visitors see us, they feel pity for us, and they donate more. But they don’t really know what was going on inside the orphanage.” Sinet Chan, Cambodian Children’s Trust ambassador, describing her experiences.10
Recognizing the risks facing children in orphanages, the government of Cambodia has launched a pilot program to reintegrate children into families. Last July, it finalized a decree which tasks officials with identifying vulnerable children and overseeing their reintegration into families.11
Community-based approaches, which seek to place children into families and offer support and resources as-needed, offer a healthier model of care than institutionalization. Redirecting the compassion, energy and resources of caring volunteers and organizations into community-based programs can end the cycle of abuse perpetrated by traffickers and exploitative orphanages.
Together, we can have an impact
In preparing this campaign, we reached out to several large volunteer tour operators calling on them to join organizations such as Volunteer Service Overseas who have taken a stand against orphanage placements.
VSO published this statement on their website in August 2016:
“We recognize the valuable and compelling academic research that demonstrates the detrimental impacts that volunteer contact can have on institutionalized children, which is why VSO does not support such placements. We’re proud to have made this commitment and to support ending volunteering in orphanages.”
With your help, we can get more volunteer tour operators to take a strong stand against orphanage trafficking. Join the call today.
3. For the avoidance of doubt, Freedom United is not alleging that these organizations knowingly exploit or promote the trafficking or abuse of children. Freedom United is calling upon them to use their important role in supporting communities around the world to bring an end to this cycle of exploitation.
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