If you’re thinking about donating your time and money to an orphanage in South Asia, you may be contributing to separating children and their families and, worse, putting children at risk.
Across the world, the popularity of volunteering programmes in orphanages is increasing. These types of programmes - though often supported by well-meaning tourists - can fuel human trafficking, trap children in inappropriate environments and harm their development.
Shockingly, many children in orphanages are not orphans. Instead, they have been separated from their families to attract fee-paying volunteers. In Nepal for example, it’s estimated that 85 per cent of all children in orphanages have at least one living parent.1
Children belong with their families, not institutions. Torn away from their parents and caregivers, young children quickly develop bonds with volunteers and may feel abandoned when they leave. Without stringent background checks of volunteers and orphanage staff, children growing up in orphanages are also targets for sexual exploitation and abuse. There is also increasing evidence that growing up in institutions can stop a child’s brain from fully developing - with irreversible impacts.2 Children in orphanages are often forced to undertake certain activities to please the donors.
You may also be violating several laws by volunteering in orphanages. In many countries, volunteering requires special visa and work permits. In Nepal, for example, it is illegal to volunteer on a tourist visa.