Child rights lawyer and Griffith Law School academic Kate van Doore has been recognised at this year’s prestigious Anti-Slavery Australia Freedom Awards after more than a year working to increase awareness around the insidious problem of child trafficking through orphanages in developing countries.

Founded in 2011 and held biennially since 2013, the Freedom Awards recognise outstanding individuals and organisations working to fight against human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices.

Ms van Doore’s work has been groundbreaking in starting a global conversation about orphanage trafficking and how we can practically combat it.

She said that receiving the award was unexpected but welcome following her efforts both domestically and internationally to bring awareness to the trafficking of children into orphanages.

Ms van Doore has focused on formalising a legal definition of the practice of paper orphaning — which involves children being recruited from their families into orphanages to meet the demand of orphanage tourism and funding — as a form of child trafficking.

“The awareness of orphanage trafficking has really increased on an international scale,” she said. “We’ve seen great momentum both in Australia and internationally since a piece of research I published last year was made available, which made the legal argument that these children are actually victims of trafficking.

Domestically, Ms van Doore is at the forefront of urging the government to consider Australia’s contribution to orphanage trafficking in the Inquiry into whether Australia should have a Modern Slavery Act.

“It has given child protection organisations across the world another angle to fight for these children,” she said. “There has been a huge increase of interest on an issue that had not previously really been acknowledged legally as a form of trafficking.”

Ms van Doore’s part in the ongoing fight against orphanage trafficking had its origins with Forget Me Not, a non-governmental organisation she co-founded that originally established orphanages, but upon discovering that children had been recruited into their orphanages to pose as orphans for international funding, transitioned to focus on rescue and reunification of children from orphanages.

She acknowledges the long-term backing of the Griffith Law School, which has supported her research and service work for over a decade, in helping her strive for, and achieve, significant change on an international scale in an area about which she is deeply passionate.

“The protection of children has always been at the centre of what I’m interested in, but the trafficking work has really happened in the last three years,” Ms van Doore said.

The unique combination of Ms van Doore’s work in defining and establishing orphanage trafficking as a trafficking act, and her direct experience with children trafficked into institutional care in Nepal and Uganda, including their successful reintegration, have made her one of the clearest and most powerful voices on this issue.

“That’s been pursued predominantly through a PhD which I’m completing through the Law School, as well as my research and service work that the Law School has overwhelmingly supported since I co-founded the organisation in 2006, she said.”

“Advocacy is a huge part of my life,” Ms van Doore continued. “I still sit on the board of Forget Me Not, and I’m also involved in ReThink Orphanages and the international version of that group, Better Volunteering, Better Care.

“It’s an around-the-clock venture presently. People all over the world are working on this issue, and it’s fantastic to be able to work with them.”