Dublin, 20 November 2022 – On this World Children’s Day, Comhlámh and the End Orphanage Volunteering Working Group (EOVWG) are calling on the government to adopt the recommendations of the ‘Put Children First: End Orphanage Care’ campaign to help end orphanage volunteering and the institutionalisation of children and ensure that Ireland can better support global care reform and ensure family and community-based care for every child.
“Decades of research show that institutionalisation is harmful to a child’s development, health and well-being and there is now a global effort to shift away from institutional models of care towards family-based care,” said Dr Chris O’Connell, Volunteering Quality Project Officer at Comhlámh. “Orphanage volunteering and visits are creating a demand for orphanages, and for children to populate them. In a 2019 resolution which Ireland supported, the UN General Assembly recognised that volunteering in orphanages, including tourism, can lead to the trafficking and exploitation of children and called on states to take action to prevent this activity,” O’Connell continued. “There is a growing shift in policy and practice; away from supporting orphanages and moving towards supporting families, so that more children can remain with their parents and live within their community. We call on our government to follow the suit and make a strong commitment to ending orphanage care and the orphanage volunteering that fuels it”, he concluded.
For Ireland to support this global movement the campaign calls for the introduction of travel advice warning of the harm caused by orphanage volunteering and guidance for schools and youth groups not to organise overseas trips to orphanages. Additionally, the campaign calls for funding allocation for care reform strategies in overseas budgets. It also recommends that the government recognises e the harm of orphanage volunteering and no longer supports or funds programmes or activities that involve the sending of volunteers to orphanages.
The Put Children First: End Orphanage Care campaign has received considerable support from 34 organisations, including trade unions, international development and volunteering organisations, children’s rights groups and other civil society organisations.
“UNICEF Ireland supports Comhlámh’s Put Children First Campaign,” said Vivienne Parry, Advocacy Manager, UNICEF Ireland, one of campaign’s 34 endorsers. “This World Children’s Day, as we celebrate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is vital to highlight the need to protect our most vulnerable children. 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.”
“Although usually done with the best of intentions, research shows that volunteering in orphanages harms children and fuels institutional systems that separate them from their families,” said Emma Lynch, Church Engagement and Education Manager at Tearfund, one of EOVWG members. “Orphanage volunteering and tourism are creating a demand for orphanages, and for children to populate them. 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,” Lynch continued.
Stephen Ucembe, Care Leaver and Regional Advocacy Manager with Hope and Homes and founder of the Kenya Society of Careleavers, spoke of his own childhood spent in orphanages and his work to eliminate the institutional care of children: “I was placed in an orphanage when I was about 5-year-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 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’. Let’s keep it in mind this World Children’s Day.”
Individuals can take action and show solidarity by signing the campaign’s pledge which commits all not to volunteer or visit orphanages, to familiarise themselves on the issues and to increase greater awareness on the harms caused by orphanage care and volunteering.