Does Volunteering in an Orphanage Create a Demand for Child Trafficking?

Australian legal scholar Kathryn E van Doore shares a summary of her recent article, “Paper orphans: Exploring child trafficking for the purpose of orphanages,” which appeared in the International Journal of Children’s Rights.

Kathryn writes:

“My research argues that the recruitment of children with biological families into orphanages for the purpose of orphanage tourism should be regarded as a form of child trafficking under international law. The reason that this has not been regarded as a form of child trafficking previously is because to meet the legal requirements of trafficking, the purpose of the act of recruitment must be exploitation. Exploitation is defined as, at a minimum, prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. Thus, the argument that recruiting a child into an orphanage is child trafficking has not been an easy fit, and has not been made legally until now.

I argue that the effects on children of orphanage tourism should be regarded as a form of exploitation. Whilst volunteering in an orphanage is usually regarded as an admirable activity, in fact it causes children a lot of harm. Children in orphanages are often trained to perform traditional dancing and forced to perform for visitors and volunteers. Some children are sent out to beg for funds in bars at night or hand out flyers advertising their orphanage.[13] Some orphanage operators have deliberately kept children malnourished to attract more sympathy and thus more money.[14] Even where orphanages are well run, over sixty years of research tells us that the very process of institutionalization is harmful to a child’s development.[15]

Orphans and orphanages have become a business in some developing nations. My argument is that like any business, the demand for the product, in this case, orphanage tourism, has driven the market. To satisfy the demand, children are taken from families with the promise of education or returning in the future, and manufactured or produced as paper orphans to reside in orphanages and solicit funding. The aim of my research is to illustrate that this unnecessary separation should be categorised as a form of trafficking, with the demand driver for such trafficking into orphanages being orphanage tourism.”

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Harold Goodwin