Orphanage trafficking is where children are actively recruited into orphanages for the purpose of exploitation and profit. It has strong links to voluntourism (where people visit or volunteer in orphanages) and foreign aid funding emanating from donor countries such as United States and Australia. Evidence suggests that where there is a demand for volunteering in orphanages, children are recruited from their families to fill those orphanages and pose as ‘paper orphans’ (van Doore, 2016).
Orphanage trafficking is the active recruitment of children from vulnerable families into residential care institutions for the purpose of exploitation. Orphanage trafficking typically involves the false construction of a child’s identity as an orphan, known as ‘paper orphaning’ (van Doore, 2016). This is achieved through falsifying documents including parental death or abandonment certificates or through fabricated ‘orphanhood’ narratives, which are espoused to foreign donors in order to legitimise a child’s admission into institutional care.
Once a child is constructed as an orphan and placed into care, the orphan narrative and associated notion of vulnerability is used to elicit the sympathy of tourists, volunteers and overseas donors to solicit funds. Orphanages are often established in popular tourist destinations for this reason (Reas, 2015). Once in the orphanage, children are often kept in poor conditions, malnourished and without proper healthcare or schooling in order to encourage donations and further funding from volunteers (Better Care Network, 2014). Other concerning activities are where children are made to perform traditional dances, sent out to beg for funds in bars at night, or to hand out flyers advertising their orphanage and told to beg for donations (UNICEF, 2011).
How do orphanages earn profit?
Orphan homes are skilled and proficient at scamming:
In the circumstance of donors, the orphan homes will tell them operating costs are much higher than actual costs. Because overseas foundations and donors have little knowledge of how little things cost in developing countries, they believe these costs are reasonable.
In the circumstance of volunteers, they pay to volunteer at the orphan home, sometimes up to $300/week and are told their ‘fee’ goes towards rent, utilities, and food for the children. Again the foreign volunteer has little concept of true pricing so has no qualms about paying this.
In the circumstance of international adoptions, adoption agencies lie to the prospective adoptive parents ensuring them the children are “true” orphans and frankly, the adoptive parents are blindly accepting their word as truth. For example, it costs prospective parents between USD $20,000 – $50,000 to adopt a child 10, while the average wage in developing countries is $2/day 11. This becomes a lucrative business for an adoption agency in the developing world.
How Does this happen?
There are two primary ways that orphan homes acquire children:
Children are lured and manipulated by traffickers who use promise of a job or schooling. Often times traffickers are community members or relatives who have gained the families trust. They can earn a year’s income from the sale of one child.
In patriarchal societies, women are powerless without their husbands. If a mother becomes widowed or abandoned, she is often unable to financially support her children, and gives them up in hopes of a better life.