Across the world there are an estimated 8 million children in institutional care, or orphanages. As individuals, and as businesses, we often react emotionally to what we see as the plight of these children. We want to help. We want to do something for them. We want to donate our money and time to them.
However, what if we were actually harming those children further by our well-meaning actions? ‘How on earth can this be?’, you may ask.
Let’s look at the facts. Of those 8 million children in orphanages, research has shown 80% are not orphans. They have one or more living parents. They have families. They could be with their families. They should be with their families. 60 years of research in the west has also proved the harmful effects of institutional care upon children. It is not just physically damaging, it is mentally damaging, stunting development and causing long term emotional harm.
Let’s look at the orphanages themselves. Recently the media focus has turned onto something known as the orphanage business. Take Cambodia, historically a troubled nation but now a stable, developing country, no natural disasters, no conflict, yet a huge increase in the number of orphanages over the last ten years. Where are these orphans coming from? The answer – primarily families. 72% of children in the growing number of institutions there have living parents. Pressure is put onto families by the orphanages to give up their children into institutional care, with the promise of a better life for them. However, most of these institutions are run as businesses, pure and simple, lacking any child protection policies or acceptable standards of care and with the children being the vital ingredient that brings in not only sympathy, but also millions of dollars from overseas donors. The orphanage industry is literally tearing families apart.
If you currently support an orphanage, do you know exactly where your money goes? Do you know exactly what positive impact it has? If not, then find out. Ask questions. How many of the children are true orphans? Is anything being done to reunite children with their families, or to reintegrate them through family based care options? Or better still, stop and think. Is there a better way I can help these children?
The answer is yes. You can redirect you or your company’s efforts away from supporting a fatally flawed industry, the orphanage business, and toward supporting initiatives which help families stay together. It not only makes perfect sense in human terms, it also makes absolute sense in fiscal terms. In Cambodia it’s estimated it costs nine times more to keep a child in institutional care than it would be to support it to be cared for within its family.
The organization Friends-International has 21 years of experience in child welfare and development. It powers the global ChildSafe Movement, which is behind the campaigns ‘Children Are Not Tourist Attractions’ and ‘Don’t Create More Orphans’. Both of these campaigns seek to raise awareness of the crucial issues surrounding the very real harm that institutional care causes to children. To date 35 million people have been exposed to the ChildSafe messages, and the ChildSafe Movement is growing worldwide.
If you or company are currently supporting, or are thinking of supporting institutional or orphanage care options, ChildSafe urges you to think again. Visit the website http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforedonating/ for information and advice on how you can play your part in the global movement to protect children.