JK Rowling is calling of students to stop volunteering at orphanages based on the clear evidence that “orphanage tourism” is fuelling child trafficking and the separation of parents from their children.
“Despite the best of intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse,” she said speaking at the One Young World Summit in London.
Rowling, while being best known for authoring the Harry Potter books, is also the founder and president of children’s charity Lumos, which has been campaigning to find alternatives to orphanages for vulnerable children.
“Institutionalism is one of the worst things you can do to children in the world. It has huge effects on their normal development, it renders children vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, and it massively impacts their life chances,” said Rowling.
“And these dire statistics apply even to what we would see as well-run orphanages … The effect on children is universally poor.”
The Guardian reports:
Rowling was launching a three-year global campaign to challenge attitudes toward orphanage tourism and volunteering, #HelpingNotHelping. The campaign is backed by recently revised travel advice from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office warning of the potential harm of orphanage tourism and volunteering.
Huge numbers of volunteers, tourists and backpackers visit residential children’s institutions every year, creating a multimillion-dollar tourism industry that leaves children at risk of all forms of abuse, according to Lumos.
Children in institutions are 500 times more likely to take their own lives, 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution, the charity claims.
A campaign launched on Thursday by Lumos and YouGov suggests volunteers are largely unaware of the potential harm their visits can do. An estimated two-thirds of UK students believe volunteering at an orphanage overseas would enhance their CV or career prospects, and one in five have either visited or volunteered at an orphanage overseas – or know someone who has, the charity said.
Research from Lumos has found that the overwhelming majority of students were unaware that 80% of the 8 million children currently living in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent.
Chloe Setter, Lumos’ senior adviser on anti-trafficking said that the organization would soon publish research on how children are being trafficked to orphanages in order to attract donations and volunteers from overseas.
“Many orphanages, in particular unregistered orphanages, are run like a business and it’s not a coincidence that they’re often located in tourist areas,” said Setter.
“What we see on the ground is families, and their children, being targeted by ‘child-finders’ who are sometimes paying them or otherwise encouraging them to give their child up to the orphanage for a ‘better life’, with education being one of the main reasons, usually because of poverty.”
Ruth Wacuka, a One Young World ambassador from Kenya, experienced this first-hand. She told the audience how she was placed in an orphanage in Nairobi by her parents, who thought she would get an education and be taken care of.
“The orphanage was next to a giraffe sanctuary, so you can imagine how many visitors we would get,” said Wacuka.
“They would come to the sanctuary to take photos of the giraffes and then come to the orphanage to take pictures of me. But children are not tourist attractions. They are not animals. They have lives and destinies.”