‘Put Children First: End Orphanage Care’: Comhlámh Launches a New Campaign to End Orphanage Volunteering
Comhlámh and the End Orphanage Volunteering Working Group today, 10th November, launched a public awareness campaign and a pledge to help change how children are cared for globally. Children belong in families and communities, yet of an estimated 5.4 million children living in institutions worldwide, more than 80% have at least one living parent. Poverty, discrimination, lack of access to education and health services are key drivers of family separation. Orphanage volunteering and tourism are also important contributing factors. Therefore, the campaign asks that people pledge not to volunteer or visit in an orphanage because of the harm caused to children by these practices.
“International volunteering is well known in Ireland and volunteering in orphanages is popular with many people who wish to respond to the needs of vulnerable children. Although it is usually done with the best of intentions, research shows that volunteering in orphanages harms children’s development, increases the risk of them being abused and fuels institutional systems that separate children from their families,’ said Sandra Byrne, Volunteering Quality Project Officer at Comhlámh. “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 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.’ Byrne 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”.
The Put Children First: End Orphanage Care pledge has been welcomed by care experts with lived experience and key advocates on care reform. Ruth Wacuka, care reform expert and founder of Reroot Africa, an organisation creating awareness of the risks of voluntourism, said: “We cannot achieve change unless we are ready to look through the lens of children and young people highly impacted by our volunteering behaviour and actions; attempt to walk through their past and present lives and the complexities of orphanage volunteering, and that experience will shape action. It is only then we will come close to doing better.“
The Put Children First: End Orphanage Care campaign pledge will provide an opportunity for individuals to take action and show solidarity. It commits all not to volunteer or visit an orphanage, to familiarise themselves with the issues and to increase greater awareness. Comhlámh and Tearfund Ireland, a member of the End Orphanage Volunteering Working Group, also launched a Student Action Group made up of young people from universities around Ireland, who will be working to build awareness on their campuses to end orphanage volunteering.