Orphans and Human Trafficking

This month on the Relentless Facebook page I’ve been posting about orphans, orphantourism (or voluntourism) and the link to human trafficking. Although the institutionalization of children is bad enough, quite a few deplorable unscrupulous people are profiting off of the practice and using children to make money, which is the definition of human trafficking.

Why are orphanages so bad for children? Don’t some unfortunate children need a place to live? I’m also going to draw a broad stroke and lump in most of the children’s homes (my experience is in SE Asia) to which families send children for the purpose of schooling or whatever. These are still institutions with the same pitfalls as orphanages.

There are MANY articles about why institutions are bad for children so I don’t need to write another article but will outline main points and provide links for you to read in depth. Here is a video of J.K. Rowling talking about this issue (real interview and video begins at 2:20). This is a good TED talk on the subject.

Human Trafficking is linked to orphanages when people see that they can make money by recruiting children from their parents to live in orphanages or children’s homes. There is an industry of making children into “Paper Orphans” – children that are put up for adoption who aren’t truly orphans. This is another report that links child trafficking to orphanages in Haiti. People know that orphanages are a draw for voluntourists and can bring in a lot of money so there is a risk for child exploitation in putting them in so-called orphanages when they don’t need to be there.

The health, wellness, and development of children are compromised by institutionalization. For every three months in an institution, children lose one month of proper development. As a pediatrician with extensive experience working with institutionalized children this is so very true. Please listen to this report, read this article, or this one. There are plenty more scientific papers on this.

Child Protection (or lack of it) is a huge issue when it comes to the safety and security of children. Lack of proper vetting and training leads to unintentional maltreatment at best, malicious abuse and neglect at the worst. Perhaps you would prefer to hear from J.K. Rowling on twitter about the matter.

Orphanages and children’s homes presents issues with integrity. Is this institution actually the BEST we can do for these children? Are these children ever exploited by stories, photos, and other ploys to garner donations? Sometimes you could be exploiting children with your selfies.  This refers not only to the organization but more importantly to the volunteers and the donors to do their due diligence in ensuring that their personal and financial resources are actually being used for the benefit of the children. A short video by the New York times highlights this problem.

Last but definitely not least is that we can help to prevent human trafficking, exploitation, and many other ills that befall children who have a history of institutionalization. Many times organizations will claim that their “home” is to prevent a child from being trafficked, but the reality is that due to the delayed development, risk of neglect and abuse, lack of normal attachment and attunement, these children are at risk for a variety of poor outcomes and increases their vulnerability to being trafficked.

For those who still believe that there is a role for orphanages or don’t know where to start in turning this ship around, I’ll leave you with this quote from Crux: “It’s less about putting well-meaning institutions out of business, and more about putting them in the right business.”