What do you sell when you have nothing left to sell, you have no money, no food, little water, and no prospects of employment? The future looks bleak and so you sell the only thing you have left…your own child! For if you cannot sale one child then how can you feed the others?
News of war orphans, child trafficking, forced labor and kidnappings are nothing new in the international media, however the media fails to shine a clear and bright light on the true extensive nature and scope of the problem. These horrendous crimes against children are nothing less than common place in many countries, a daily activity that has made children little more than a cheap commodity.
For example a 2008 report on Swaziland reviled a frightening look at the number of female orphans in the country continue to grow at a substantial rate, leaving them ripe for sexual exploitation, as more and more female orphans are reported abused. One factor for the large scale number of orphans across the continent, especially Western Africa is the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which UNICEF estimates will leave some 200,000 Swazi children orphans in the next two years alone, this is more than one-fifth of the country’s current population.
The increase of orphan’s undoubtedly places a strain on what is already a strained system in many countries, as orphanages often lack adequate funding which then hinders their capabilities to provide appropriate care. Orphans are often given little access to education, physical and mental health care and other resources needed to aid in their growth and development. This strain is often then the focus of international aid, and thus many private institutions begin to spring up, and international donors soon become the main funding source for many orphanages. While this seems like the perfect solution, it is not, and the increase often makes it even harder to regulate and enforce child welfare laws and regulations.
All too often as an international community we seek to apply only a band-aid solution to a problem and while band aids are needed, they will not be enough to heal a gaping wound and if one never looks back to see that the wound is healing properly then we can never truly heal and recover from the situation. It is this same band-aid philosophy that is often applied to orphan children and the communities for which they live in, however we cannot just give them food and shelter and expect them to grow and prosper into successful adults, we must see that they are given more if we are to help brake this cycle. It is this attempt to apply a one-size fits all philosophy to the orphan situation, that has now led to orphanages becoming a breading ground in many cases for abuse and child trafficking, as well many impoverished families are beginning to see orphanages as a solution to escape poverty for themselves or their child.
In the recent article, Protecting children from orphan-dealers, which emerged following the rape of an eight-month-old boy in an Ghanaian orphanage, which led to investigations into the countries orphanages, only proved what activists have been claiming as wide-spread abuse across West African orphanages. In this particular case is was discovered 27 of the 32 children living in the home were not actually orphans.
A January 2009 study by the Social Welfare Department – responsible for children’s welfare and supervising orphanages – showed that up to 90 percent of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages in Ghana are not orphans and 140 of the 148 orphanages around the country are un-licensed, said the department’s assistant director Helena Obeng Asamoah.
So is so much attention being paid to orphanages? Mostly the international community see’s orphanages as easy solution, said Joachim Theis, UNICEF head of child protection for West Africa. “You have a building, you house children in it, it is easy to count them. And they are easy to fundraise for. It is a model that has been used for a long time. But it is the wrong model.”
So what do we do? First of all governments must also enforce existing laws, and work to strengthen the country’s social welfare departments. The failure of these systems is what has led to the increase of illegal and unregulated orphanages, and therefore there must be an increase in other areas such as foster care, education and support for single parent and impoverished families. By increasing such programs like meals at school, adequate and free education and healthcare, as well as community support and assistance in employment and aid, can all aid in preventing a family from placing a child into care. In the long run for both child and community, keeping children out of orphanages is the ideal solution.