Child Trafficking

Hell Called Orphanage


["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 experience in an orphanage as a child.]

Unscrupulous individuals are profiting from the trafficking and abuse of children under their care in orphanages across the world. Traffickers, attracted by the funding orphanages receive from donations and organisations offering 'voluntourism' placements, effectively turn children into commodities by ensuring there is a constant supply of children who are used to attract funding.

Volunteer placement organisations have assigned thousands of volunteers across the world to projects bringing mutual lasting benefits to both volunteers and the communities they work in. Although usually a small portion of all placements, some offer placements in orphanages.

'Voluntourism'—the practice of combining voluntary work with travelling—has become a popular trend over the years, leading to a boom in the number of organisations offering holiday packages that involve some voluntary work, including at orphanages. Whilst only some might be affected, traffickers and unscrupulous children's homes seeking to capitalise on this trend, encourage impoverished families into giving up their children to orphanages, where they may be exploited, even abused, malnourished, forced to work, and sometime trafficked to other orphanages and forms of exploitation in order to repeat the cycle and elicit further funding.

With an estimated 8 million children living in orphanages around the world and 80% of these having at least one parent or family member that is able to look after them with additional support where needed, it is clear 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.
The government of Cambodia recognises the risks facing children in orphanages and has set up a pilot programme to reintegrate children into families. Last July, it finalised a decree that tasks officials with identifying vulnerable children and overseeing their reintegration into families.

Families living in poverty are vulnerable to being duped into selling or giving their children to orphanages in the hope that they will receive better care—this is often not the case. Even in orphanages that are well-resourced, being placed in an orphanage and destroying lasting family-based relationships has serious detrimental effects on a child's long-term development and psychological well-being, and should only ever be used as temporary care and as the very last resort.

In Haiti, some families had been 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 there.

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. 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.

It's clear that organisations offering placements in orphanages can play a part in putting an end to the cycle of abuse perpetuated by traffickers seeking to exploit the demand for volunteer placements abroad.

These organisations can help prevent traffickers from running orphanages as potentially lucrative business models by removing the incentive to unscrupulous operators and making a strong statement against orphanage trafficking.

Vol. 51, No.9, Sep 2 - 8, 2018