I wish I could lay claim to the words below, but while they aren’t mine the sentiments they express are. Helen and I had thought about visiting a school or orphanage while in Siem Reap but after some reading we’ve changed our minds. We hadn’t stopped to think as it says below about the long term harm this can do and the cycle it creates. Please if you are heading onto similar areas read the words below and re-think your actions. There are ways of helping and supporting the local community, this just isn’t one of them.
What is orphanage tourism?
When traveling in Cambodia, it has become the norm for tourists to be approached by children, requesting that they make a visit to their orphanage before leaving town. Generally, a visit would include a short performance or dance routine by the children, accompanied with a request for a small donation to assist with orphanage running costs. An entire industry has grown out of thousands of tourist visits. It is known as orphanage tourism.
Why end orphanage tourism?
A recent report into Cambodian residential institutions (orphanages) has revealed that tourist visits, despite tourists’ best intentions, cause more harm than good. The report shows that orphanage tourism, often conducted by unscrupulous business operators, does more to harm, rather than help child protection, rights and education standards. Further, it is shown that this industry contributes to the separation of Cambodian families.
It is reported that 70% of “orphans” living in an orphanage have one living parent.
When traveling through a developing country it is easy to become overwhelmed by the situation of children. Poverty and social issues are very visible and often travelers are moved to take action and want to contribute in a meaningful way. It is important that the international community does take action, however contributions can unfortunately often add to existing problems or create an environment where children are kept in vulnerable and dangerous situations.
This information seeks to assist travelers and volunteers in finding a way to contribute, yet avoid situations or actions that may lead to child exploitation. Certain ‘tourist attractions’ such as orphanage tours exploit children’s vulnerabilities.
Before visiting or volunteering in an orphanage consider the following questions:
How do I harm children by visiting an orphanage?
Many orphanages rely almost entirely on donations from visitors to survive. Thus directors may purposefully maintain poor living conditions for children to secure funds from tourists. Children who appear underserved may come across as a cry for help more than children who appear well fed and cared for. This of course places guilt on tourists if they do not help immediately. By visiting orphanages and making a donation you may be fuelling a system that exploits children.
In my own country would I consider visiting a shelter for children during the course of my day?
Most people would never consider going to an orphanage, shelter or residential home in their own countries. Why? An orphanage is a child’s home and they have the right to privacy in this space. Orphanages are not zoos and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home. In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children’s rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.
Is my contribution sustainable?
Investing in the future of Cambodian children is a valuable contribution. Investing in Cambodian families is also a valuable pursuit. Projects that aim towards strengthening community-based work provides the conditions under which alternative options may be offered to children and their families. A sustainable contribution should be aimed at breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty and exploitation.
Orphanages do not offer a long-term sustainable response to the situation of vulnerable children. By investing in families and communities we are laying the foundation for better conditions for children.
Orphanages should be a last resort option for children in need. If children are to be placed temporarily in an orphanage, how can it ensure that it works in the best interest of the child?
For more reading on this list Childsafe.org