In February 2017, Attorney General Senator George Brandis QC requested that the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade launch an inquiry into modern slavery in Australia. It is now likely that a Modern Slavery Act – which will seek to eliminate slavery within Australian supply chains – will be introduced. This Act will include measures aimed at preventing orphanage trafficking, which will affect all Australian charities and churches currently funding overseas orphanages and/or facilitating volunteering in orphanages.
What is orphanage trafficking and how does it affect Australian churches and charities?
Like with any type of trafficking, orphanage trafficking is about supply and demand. Orphanage operators know that there is great ‘demand’ from well-meaning tourists and overseas donors who want to help provide for vulnerable orphans. To meet this demand, children who are not actually orphans are regularly removed from their homes and taken to live in orphanages so that institutions can continue to attract funding and support from donors.
In many cases, charities and individual donors in countries like Australia are even presented with falsified documents and stories, showing that a child’s parents have died and that the child is now alone and vulnerable. In reality, we know that about 80 percent of children living in residential care institutions have parents and families who have simply been erased from their lives. Sadly, to elicit even more sympathy from donors, many of these children are also mistreated by these institutions; deliberately kept undernourished and in poor conditions so as to attract more sympathy from donors.
By continuing to support orphanages – either through financial contributions or by sending volunteers to visit children – churches and charities are actually helping fuel the problem of orphanage trafficking.
How are Australian churches involved and what do they need to do?
A recent study found that 51 percent of church attendees in Australia – across various denominations – had donated to overseas orphanages. A total of 14 percent of those who had volunteered overseas, had also volunteered in an overseas orphanage.
For Christians, whose faith is built around caring for others – including special care for the ‘orphan and the widow’ – it can be difficult to hear that this practice of supporting orphanages must be closely examined and eventually, halted. It’s vital we remember, however, that it’s not about ceasing care for children who are actually needy and vulnerable but bringing an end to the commodification and exploitation of this support.
To do this, we recommend ceasing any short-term mission trips to orphanages, while also conducting a due diligence check on any residential care institutions you currently support. If you discover that you’re partnering with an orphanage that isn’t measuring up to good practice, we recommend that you use your power as a donor to advocate for change. ACCI has worked with many former orphanages which have successfully transitioned children from residential to family-based care and can provide you with the support you need to help the institutions you support do the same.
To learn more and to find out what your obligations under the new legislation may be, please read our short-term missions and orphanages fact sheet.
How are Australian charities involved and what do they need to do?
Australian charities which raise funds from donors for the purpose of sending onto orphanages may either be a part of the exploitation of children or actually being exploited themselves. Often, they are being duped by their overseas partners into telling falsified stories about children to raise more funds from donors. But in other cases, charities are actually fuelling orphanage trafficking by requiring that the institutions they support have a minimum number of children in their care to be eligible for funding.
Largely, Australian charities think they’re doing the right thing by supporting overseas orphanages but in most cases, are either misinformed about the actual practices of the institutions they’re funding or don’t realise the ramifications of using institutionalisation to address issues like poverty or lack of education.
Until the legislation becomes clear, we encourage all Australian charities funding overseas orphanages and institutions to conduct a thorough due diligence check into these organisations. If they don’t measure up to good practice, we recommend you use your voice to advocate for change, or – if they won’t consider changing – cease funding. You should also immediately cease organising any volunteer trips to orphanages.
To learn more and to find out what your obligations under the new legislation may be, please read our partnerships with overseas orphanages fact sheet.