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Orphanage tourism

18 March 2016, Action for Change

Thinking of volunteering on your next holiday? Do your research. Thousands of children are being removed from their families, from their friends, from their communities, from those who love and nurture them, to fill places in 'orphanages'. 

Orphanage tourism is an increasing problem in many of the countries where Save the Children works. Capitalising on the good will of visitors who want to support children living in difficult circumstances, unscrupulous people are often loading orphanages with children who are not, in fact, orphans. 

Well-intentioned foreigners are donating money, visiting, and volunteering at ‘enterprise orphanages’ that turn a profit from this goodwill. To meet the demand of foreigners wanting to support poor children, the managers of these orphanages have in some cases taken children from their parents to live in the orphanages, after convincing parents their children would be better off in care. 

Children in institutions can often face a lack individual care, privacy and independence, and are at high risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. Children who grow up in orphanages are at higher risk of suicide, prostitution and involvement in criminal activity. 

In Cambodia, the number of residential care institutions has risen by 75% in the last decade, despite the fact that the amount of orphans has significantly reduced. The vast majority of children in these institutions are not orphans, in the traditional sense, but children from poor families. 

On a recent trip to Cambodia hosted by Save the Children, Western Australian Senator Linda Reynolds learned of the harms done by orphanage tourism, “In Australia we know the negative physical and mental impacts of children in residential care – we should not be supporting these institutions overseas when community-based options are available,” she said. 

“Orphanage operators in Cambodia have been known to seek out children to live in their establishments and to provide payment or exercise coercion for their parents to give them up. 

“Often these children come from very poor families in rural areas, and the operators disingenuously offer parents the opportunity of a better life for their children than the parents believe they would be able to provide in their local communities. 

"Just stop and think about that: thousands of children are being removed from their families, from their friends, from their communities, from those who love and nurture them, to fill places in these facilities.” 

Save the Children is a member of ReThink Orphanages, an organisation that aims to prevent the institutionalisation of children by shifting the way Australia engages with overseas aid and development. 

Karen Flanagan AM, Save the Children’s Child Protection Technical Unit Manager, said, “It is staggering to think that around the world there are up to 8 million children living in institutions, despite the fact that approximately 80% of these children have family who could care for them if they had the right support. 

“Australians must become informed about the orphanage industry. Supporting ReThink Orphanages will help ensure all children can achieve their right to grow up in a family.”