Griffith Law School lecturer Kate van Doore has used her keynote speech at the Trust Conference to encourage others to put an end to ‘orphanage tourism’.
Kate shared her personal story before participating in a panel examining ‘orphanages as trafficking hubs’ at the annual human rights forum hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Kate revealed how an investigation into an Ugandan orphanage, funded by the Forget Me Not charity she co-created, had taken children from their families promising an education they would never receive.
“The kids started saying to us, can I go home now? I’d really like to see my mum, I have family, my name is not Joseph. In that moment, we released that things were not what they appeared to be,” she shared.
These children were being falsely claimed as orphans for ‘international funding and volunteers who will pay to stay in orphanages’ says Kate. After reuniting children with their families, she focused on the charity’s Nepal program and found the same thing happening.
Kate acknowledges that without their courage and their decision to speak up about their situation, these children would have continued in their unethical institutionalisation.
“Being a lawyer, I thought this sounds like child trafficking, but after speaking to some NGOsthey said it isn’t because the way the process is working they are not considered to be ‘exploited’ in these orphanages,” recalls Kate.
Kate made it a ‘personal mission’ to expand the legal concept of child trafficking to include the practices she had witnessed and dealt with. In 2016, she published a paper outlining a definition of orphanage trafficking.
Since publishing the paper, Kate says that there has been a ‘huge leap in what we now know as orphanage trafficking’, including the Modern Slavery bill that will be debated soon by the Australian Government.
Kate says that institutionalising ‘vulnerable children’ as a ‘first port of call’ and a ‘continual rotation of caregivers in an out of their lives’ is not in the best interests of those children.
“We know better than to perpetuate this system in countries by donating, funding and volunteering in these organisations and it needs to stop, please don’t volunteer in orphanages, please tell others to not volunteer. It’s never a good option,” says Kate.