Does funding orphanages create orphans?
Posted on January 16, 2010 at 10:00 am
This is an edited repost of an article written in June of ’09
If the unthinkable were to happen and you and your spouse, or one of your children and their spouse, were to die in a disaster, would your children or grandchildren be sent to an orphanage?
Most likely, before being sent to an orphanage there would be grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, and close family friends or neighbors would take care of your children. This is also true in developing countries where families often live even closer to each other and have a greater role in helping each other raise children. In reality there are relatively few cases where a child is completely without someone who could take care of them if they had the financial means to do so.
MYTH: Hordes of abandoned orphans - from the World Disaster Report 2005
Orphanages are attractive to donors
With the majority of children having someone willing to take care of them, why are there so many orphanages? As the IRIN article West Africa, Protecting Children from Orphan Dealers states:
Many of the children in orphanages are not actually orphans
After the tsunami money came pouring into orphanages and foster care programs. I had two different instances where staff from an orphanage and a foster care program came to me seeking orphans. The foster care program and orphanage were built without first determining whether there was actually a need, and both programs eventually had to settle for street children. There were few children that were not cared for by family or living in a state sponsored boarding school.
The following examples are from the article West Africa, Protecting Children from Orphan Dealers
“One in eight Liberians is classified as a child missing one or both parents. But many of the estimated 5,800 estimated children in orphanages are reportedly not orphans, according to local child rights activists”.
Never assume that orphanages are licensed by the state
Just because an organization is seeking funds to build an orphanage does not mean they are actually licensed by the state to work with orphans. From IRIN
In Thailand, two theme orphanages were built after the tsunami. One was aimed at creating an all-orphan sports team, the other was developed to be a tourist facility. The children at the second orphanage waited on the tourists as part of a livelihoods training program. I question whether either of these orphanages were licensed by the government.
Why are there so many children with living parents in orphanages?
With so much money going to orphanages, parents may feel that it is the only way to provide for their children. From IRIN
When I visited UNICEF in Indonesia, I was told that parents were abandoning their children at orphanages because they didn’t have the money to feed and clothe them anymore. This was such a problem that UNICEF was undergoing an extensive campaign to:
As bad as the above examples sound, there are even worse examples of children with living parents being placed in orphanages. A recent article from the Salt Lake Tribune states:
Orphanages are naturally appealing projects, unfortunately from the few examples given above it is clear that many do more harm than good. Donors should investigate a proposed orphanage thoroughly before donating. Donors should also consider donating to programs that support families and caretakers. From IRIN:
Articles linked to in this post:
Three myths – among many, The World Disaster Report, 2005 Indonesia – Emergency protection of children separated from parents in the tsunami – UNICEF
At least $108K sought for Samoan kids – Salt Lake Tribune
United Nations Guidelines for the alternative care of children
This blog’s post explaining how donors can use these guidelines in their funding decisions Be cautious when funding orphanages
UNICEF – Social Protection Strategy in Eastern and Southern Africa
United Nations working paper Reconstructing well-being after a disaster: Bringing public service to those who need it the most in China
United Nations report Human Rights in Liberia’s Orphanages
Children in Emergencies: Applying what we know – wait… what? A must read for any interested in issues surrounding children after a disaster.
A protest against orphanage tourism – Lessons I Learned blog