Most of the children who live in orphanages have parents without the resources to care for them and provide them with what they need.
We’re not talking about the “orphanages” created exclusively for international adoption, where many children with families end up, because they are not institutions, merely “passing through” places.
We are talking about mostly well-meaning institutions whose children end up growing up inside, despite having their own families outside. We are talking about poverty being the cause of the institutionalisation of children.
It has been established that at least four of every five “orphans” have one or both parents who are unable to look after them. If they don’t have parents then they have grandparents or extended family.
The charitable organisation Save the Children published a report which shows that the figures in some areas are as follows: 90 percent in Ghana, 95 percent in Indonesia and an unbelievable 98 percent in Central and Eastern Europe. The main reason that so many children are becoming “orphans” is poverty.
“Unfortunately, there are many desperate families who feel they have no option but to leave their child in an orphanage which will at least ensure that they receive food, clothing and education. In many countries it is possible that the only type of free education available to the community is the orphanage. The most tragic thing is that, in frequent cases, the children who arrive at the orphanage are separated from their families permanently.”
Whilst some parents give up their children in the hope that it’s the only way of giving them a better life, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Children in institutions are much more vulnerable to abuse, neglect, exploitation and psychological damage. Save the Children report that children who grew up in orphanages are more prone to experiencing problems with their development, behavior and furthermore, they have a lower intelligence quotient than those who grew up at home or with adoptive parents. Children under the age of three, in particular, suffer permanent damage, both physical and mental.
Save the Children makes every effort to deny the conviction that the orphanage is the answer for families who are struggling to bring up their children. For this purpose, they try to persuade Governments and donors to dedicate funds to projects supporting the families.
“We know that the cost of running institutions is ten times higher than the cost of supporting the child in the bosom of its family, providing access to health, education, infant care and the help for survival.”
In some countries, orphanages have been turned into lucrative businesses, according to Louise Melville-Fulford, which has led to a dramatic increase in number over the last few years, especially in Africa and Asia. “Orphanages are often seen as an easy option and they tend to attract plenty of financial support, for which reason many unscrupulous individuals take advantage of the situation, pocketing the donations instead of using the money to help the children. In the worst cases, children are kidnapped by orphanages since the donations are determined by the number of children inside the institution. In other words, the more children they have, the more money they get. Afterwards, the children are thrown out onto the street on many occasions.”
What is the best way to help then?
Save the Children maintain that if they receive the right amount of aid, even the poorest of families are perfectly capable of looking after their children. But it is vital to make an appeal to the Governments, donors and the people who work at the orphanages to get them to direct their efforts towards granting this aid.
It’s disgraceful that a child with a family is put in an institution.
In our humble experience we think that the best solution is a good school, where the children are happy in a safe and stimulating environment. Where they can have 3 meals a day. Where they can at least be guaranteed to survive for the first 5 years of their lives, since from birth to 5 years is the most vulnerable period in a child’s life.
This seems such a simple example, though it is rarely followed and we don’t understand why. We would even dare to say that there are more orphanages than schools of this type.
Because nothing can substitute the warmth, intimacy and the continued support and relationship within the family.
To give an example, the large majority of the children at the Abugida school ought to be in institutions for reasons of poverty. But their lives are actually very different: they attend school or nursery where they eat, play and learn with happy teachers, where there is no physical punishment and where their families come to collect them each afternoon to take them home... This also gives so many single mothers the chance to keep their children. There are also single fathers too, of course.
No child wants to grow up in an institution, cut off from the outside world.
Let’s dispel the myth that it takes very little to make a Third World child happy – this is just an excuse not to give him/her very much.