When we launched our ‘Children Are Not Tourist Attractions’ campaign with the support of UNICEF back in 2011 we hoped it would raise awareness and prompt behavior change in the public in relation to a growing concern in Cambodia, orphanage tourism. The campaign did (and continues to do) just that, having reached over 3 million individuals in the last year alone, generating debate and continuing discussion and coverage in social media forums and online alongside increasing interest from traditional media in print and broadcast.
What the campaign also did was to lift the lid to the public on the complexities of the ‘orphanage business’ in Cambodia and elsewhere. The UNICEF and Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) report ‘With Best Intentions’, published shortly after our campaign launched, laid bare the facts – most children in the increasing number of Cambodian orphanages opened in the last decade were not orphans and did not need to be in institutional care and most of the care institutions were woefully inadequate in providing a duty of care or protection to those children. In fact many of them were being run as profit making businesses, pure and simple. The commodity they were trading in? Children.
The RGC is committed to an alternative care approach where family care is primary and institutionalization a final resort for only those children with particular needs or circumstances who cannot be placed elsewhere, yet there is evidence that the numbers of care institutions is continuing to increase, so of course the numbers of children being placed into care unnecessarily must also be increasing. The demand for these children also means that families are being pressurized into giving up their children to a promise of a better future, which, as numerous studies and reports have confirmed over many years simply cannot be provided by institutionalized care, which is actually harmful to children developmentally.
How can these organizations continue to proliferate? Very simply, it is down to the generosity of the donors – the public, the foundations, the faith-based organizations who plough millions of dollars annually into supporting a critically flawed and harmful industry, the Cambodian orphanage business.
Overwhelmingly, donors have good intentions – but they become disconnected from the reality of the situation, sometimes by very clever manipulation of their feelings and emotions by ‘pity charity’ approaches, sometimes by a lack of understanding of the multiple issues actually surrounding that child they want to help or sponsor. If they knew that their donation could potentially do nine times more good being focused on supporting a family rather than a child in an institution, perhaps they would think again…
Think. That word was critical to our first campaign, and it will also be just as crucial to our upcoming campaign, the second phase, launching early 2015 in which we will use strong materials we have developed online, in print and in video to raise awareness of something quite alarming – that your donation to an orphanage may actually be instrumental in creating more ‘orphans’ and of tearing families apart.
Shocking? Yes, but we need people to stop, take stock, and think! Donations to organizations or initiatives that support families to stay together and communities to be productive and economically viable will have a far greater positive impact upon the wellbeing and happiness of the children of Cambodia than keeping these harmful institutions running.
Don’t create more orphans. The world doesn’t need that.
THINK – Support families, not orphanages.