Stop orphanage volunteering and reduce child exploitation

Australiamust do more to stop child trafficking in developing nations says Kate van Doore, leading international child rights lawyer and Griffith Law School academic.

Ms van Doore, who will give evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia in Melbourne next week, has been working to abolish orphanage tourism and funding which she says encourages child exploitation.

“Many Australians visit orphanages in developing countries like Cambodia where many children are not orphans at all. In fact it enables form of modern slavery where children are kept in poor conditions in orphanages to profit from well-meaning donors and volunteers,’’ she said.

Ms van Doore coined the term ‘paper orphaning’ as the active recruitment of children into orphanages or residential care institutions in developing nations for the purpose of ongoing exploitation through orphanage tourism and funding.

Orphanage tourism includes volunteering at, or visiting, orphanages in developing countries. This is an increasingly popular tourist attraction for many Australians visiting Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal and Uganda, as well as many other developing nations.

There are between two and eight million children living in institutions globally and it estimated that 80 per cent of these children have one or both biological parents they could live with if supported.

“The business of orphanages has become very lucrative in the past decade, particularly because of the demand of people from countries like Australia wanting to help and volunteer with orphans.

“Orphanage tourism and funding creates a demand for children to be available in orphanages to volunteer with, which ultimately drives recruiters to traffick children into orphanages,’’ Ms van Doore said.

Ms van Doore has called for recognition that current aid structures and volunteers from Australia encourage child trafficking and that Australian aid funding should not be utilised to support orphanages.

“Aid funding should focus on family preservation and community-based services instead,’’ she said.

“We no longer have orphanages in Australia for very good reasons, as we’ve seen in the recent Royal Commission.

“Australian businesses and NGOs should not support orphanages in developing nations and recognise the impact on the trafficking of children internationally.”

Ms van Doore will join spokespeople from Save the Children, ReThink Orphanages, Forget Me Not, Cambodian Children’s Trust, ACCI and Lumos speaking on this issue at the Inquiry on Wednesday, August 2 at the Victorian Parliament from 12.30pm.

Ms van Doore is a co-founder of Forget Me Not Australia, an international nongovernmental organisation focused on child protection and family reunification for children residing outside of parental care, a member of the Better Volunteering, Better Care Global Working Group and a founding member of ReThink Orphanages.