Projects Abroad responds to global campaign against orphanage tourism as evidence grows of widespread child exploitation
Author: Christopher Knaus
Posted on: The Guardian | November 7th 2017
A major volunteering company is severing all links with overseas orphanages, citing fears of child trafficking and exploitation.
The announcement, made by Projects Abroad, is a significant turning point in the campaign against orphanage tourism, which has built momentum in Australia in recent months as the government considers introducing a modern slavery act.
Friends International, a child-focused not-for-profit, estimates as many as 80% of children in orphanages are so-called “paper orphans” – children with at least one living parent.
They are often exploited to attract tourist dollars, and can be subjected to abuse and forced labour, while deprived of food, education and safety.
The orphanage industry is propped up by well-meaning westerners, through donations, volunteering placements and tourism.
In south-east Asia, Australia is one of the biggest contributors to the continued existence of orphanages, according to Unicef.
Now, one of the biggest “voluntourism” companies in the world, Projects Abroad, has announced it will no longer send any of its volunteers to orphanages in developing nations.
The company has thousands of volunteers working across 30 countries, who will instead now focus their efforts in community-based childcare, which allows children to remain in their own communities and maintain valuable familial connections.
Projects Abroad’s head of program development, Jenny Puyo, said the company believed it could have a far greater impact through community-based care.
“The reach of our volunteer projects is stronger in community care, with greater potential for real lasting contribution,” Puyo said.
“Community-based care for children ensures that parents can work while their children are cared for and engaged in targeted interventions for early childhood development, including literacy, numeracy, English and hygiene.”
The company has joined ReThink Orphanages, a network of organisations working to prevent “the unnecessary institutionalisation of children”.
Research has shown that even well-run orphanages can be detrimental to a child’s development. Institutionalisation creates an increased likelihood of reactive attachment disorders, behavioural issues, reduced intellectual capability and poor physical health.
In countries like Cambodia, orphanages are a relatively recent phenomenon, which have increased in number even as the country becomes increasingly developed.
They have replaced more traditional forms of kinship and community care, and unscrupulous orphanage directors use the promise of a better life to lure children away from poor families.
Campaigners are attempting to divert the money spent by westerners away from orphanages, towards kinship and community care.
Projects Abroad’s decision follows a similar action taken by travel company Intrepid Travel last year. Intrepid stopped visits to orphanages in all of its tours in May last year, and more recently committed $90,000 to the Forget Me Not charityworking to end orphanage tourism.
But voluntourism is only one source of Australian funding that is helping to prop up orphanages in developing nations. Recent research showed Australia’s churches were continuing to provide a major source of funding.
It showed more than half of all church attendees in Australia are contributing funding to institutional care overseas.
Australian schools also take students on trips to orphanages, while universities advertise orphanage placements as international development opportunities.
The Liberal senator Linda Reynolds has been a key campaigner against orphanage tourism. The Australian parliament is currently considering how it could implement a modern slavery act, and has considered legislating restrictions on visits and donations to overseas orphanages.
Reynolds applauded Projects Abroad’s decision.
“I’m delighted the travel and volunteering sectors now recognise that there are better ways to help vulnerable children, and are moving towards supporting community and family-based care,” she said.