Dublin, 25 January 2023 – Childcare Reformers and NGO Activists of the ‘Put Children First: End Orphanage Care’ campaign led by Comhlámh meet Oireachtas Members today in a call for an end to international orphanage volunteering and the institutionalisation of children globally. Presenting to Oireachtas members in the AV Room, Comhlámh and the End Orphanage Volunteering Working Group call on the Government to meet its international commitments to support global care reform and ensure family and community-based care for every child.
“Today we are calling on TDs and Senators to take leadership on this issue by urging the Government to make a strong commitment to ending orphanage care and the orphanage volunteering that fuels it. Right now, Ireland is an obstacle to care reform instead of an enabler,” said Dr Chris O’Connell, Volunteering Quality Project Officer at Comhlámh. “That needs to change.”
Support from Ireland for orphanages via fundraising, volunteering and visits runs counter to Ireland’s international commitments to promote family and community-based care. The End Orphanage Volunteering Working Group urges the government to apply the following four recommendations:
- Recommendation 1: Irish Aid should introduce a dedicated funding stream for care reform strategies, including family and community-based support programmes.
- Recommendation 2: The Department of Foreign Affairs should introduce foreign travel advice warning of the harm caused by orphanage volunteering (including the risk of incentivising trafficking) and encouraging people not to visit or volunteer.
- Recommendation 3: Irish Aid should recognise the harm of orphanage volunteering and introduce funding criteria that no programmes or activities that involve the sending of volunteers to orphanages will be supported.
- Recommendation 4: The Departments of Education, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, should develop child-safe guidelines for trips overseas, including guidance not to visit or volunteer in orphanages.
The ‘Put Children First: End Orphanage Care’ campaign has received the formal support of 35 organisations, including trade unions, international development and volunteering organisations, human rights groups and other civil society organisations, such as the INTO, INMO, Volunteer Ireland and UNICEF Ireland. “UNICEF Ireland supports Comhlámh’s Put Children First Campaign,” says Vivienne Parry, Advocacy Manager, UNICEF Ireland. “The institutionalised care of children significantly hampers their development and makes them six times more likely to experience violence and nearly four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children placed with adoptive or foster families. UNICEF urges governments to implement, and support, optimised alternative care programmes.”
“In a 2019 resolution, the UN General Assembly recognised the harm of both institutions and of orphanage volunteering and called for the end to both practices. Ireland supported this resolution, and we now need to show this resolve by working to end orphanage volunteering and tourism from this country and supporting care reform in our overseas aid programmes,” says Emma Lynch, Church Engagement and Education Manager at Tearfund Ireland, a Working Group member.
“At Volunteer Ireland we believe that volunteering should be meaningful and have a positive impact on both the volunteer and the people who benefit from it,” says Nina Arwitz, CEO Volunteer Ireland. “As such, we are delighted to support this important campaign to end orphanage volunteering.”
In his personal testimony Stephen Ucembe, a care reform expert and Regional Advocacy Manager with Hope and Homes for Children in Kenya, who grew up in an orphanage and now works to eliminate the institutional care of children, said: “I was placed in an orphanage when I was about 5 years old after I lost my mother. I was separated from my siblings and my extended family …The fundamental lesson in my personal life and after spending 15 years of my childhood in an institution is that no child should grow up without the love of a family and isolated from the community. There is a family out there for every child, related by blood, or not. Every child deserves to have that one person who is madly in love with them, to call ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’.” In Ireland, we have taken steps to reform how we care for children, moving away from large-scale institutions toward supporting families to prevent separation and developing foster care and kinship care as alternatives. Ucembe called upon Ireland to support similar efforts in other countries, stating: “Children in Africa are not that different from those in Europe, rights are universal!
NOTES TO THE EDITOR:
- Comhlámh is member organisation that works to mobilise for an equitable and sustainable world. As the Irish association of development workers and volunteers, Comhlámh promotes values-led international volunteering and development work.
- Members of the End Orphanage Volunteering Working Group include: Comhlámh, Maintain Hope, Misean Cara, Nurture Africa and Tearfund Ireland.
- Stephen Ucembe is a care reform expert and Regional Advocacy Manager with Hope and Homes and founder of the Kenya Society of Careleavers.
- About the Put Children First: End Orphanage Care campaign.
- Read campaign’s Put Children First: End Orphanage Care Recommendations to End Orphanage Volunteering and the Institutionalisation of Children document, which provides the background and rationale for each of the policy asks.
- The Put Children First: End Orphanage Care Endorsement Campaign is calling on organisations to show their support by lending their logo to the recommendations. See the full endorser list here.