Paper orphans no more — push to stop child exploitation

Kate van Doore with Karen Flanagan (Save the Children), Senator Linda Reyolds and Leigh Mathews (Rethink Orphanages).
Kate van Doore with Karen Flanagan (Save the Children), Senator Linda Reyolds and Leigh Mathews (ReThink Orphanages) in Canberra this month.

Griffith University law lecturer Kate van Doore is at the forefront of a national campaign to close orphanages in developing nations and instead boost community care.

ReThink Orphanages Australia established by Ms van Doore and colleagues, is a cross-sector network that aims to prevent the unnecessary institutionalisation of children by shifting the way Australians engage with overseas aid.

“There are up to eight million children living in orphanages or residential care institutions globally, despite up to 85% per cent of these children having parents or family,’’ Ms van Doore said.

Known as “paper orphans”, the children have orphan status via falsified documentation. Nepal, Cambodia, Ghana and Uganda are just some of the countries where this problem has been identified.

“We want children in orphanages to be rehomed in community care, if not with their own parents with other relatives.”

Ms van Doore wants to create awareness about the ramifications of Australians supporting orphanages in developing countries.

“There is clear evidence that volunteering and/or funding orphanages are fuelling the demand for paper orphans and orphanages,’’ she said.

Travellers beware

“The institutionalisation of children is, in many cases, driven by the well-meaning but uninformed support of foreign donors, orphanage voluntourism and the supply chain of people, money and resources that drives the orphanage industry.”

Unwitting travellers including many Australians are persuaded to donate their money and time, ostensibly to help support orphanages, when in fact, it’s an elaborate scam.

Orphanage recruiters visit remote villages, where parents, keen to have their child educated in the city pay the fraudsters. Once in the city, false documentation, including new identities and death certificates of parents are produced and voila, a ‘paper orphan’ is born. The parents won’t see their child again.

As a board member of the international NGO Forget Me Not, Ms van Doore helped establish and fund best-practice orphanages in Nepal and Uganda. But, upon discovering the children in their care were indeed ‘paper orphans’, the organisation focused on finding the children’s families and reintegrating them.

“Growing up in an institution violates a child’s right to grow up in a family. Residential care can also have serious detrimental impacts on children’s cognitive, social and emotional development and adversely affect their wellbeing,’’ Ms van Doore said.

ReThink Orphanages supports Senator Linda Reynold’s call for DFAT to establish a new Smart Volunteer website to accompany Smart Traveller.

“Smart Volunteer would provide practical assistance to all Australians wanting to volunteer overseas to ensure they make ethical and responsible choices and protect the rights of children.”

Rethink Orphanages is working with stakeholders from all sectors including government, education, faith-based communities, philanthropy, aid and development and tourism, to address the issue in Australia.

“By raising awareness and educating Australians, the ReThink Orphanages network believes this is one form of child abuse we can end in our lifetime.”