Saturday, January 9, 2016

Orphanage tourism

This is a fascinating article about "orphanage tourism", which is something I didn't even know existed.  Apparently it's big in Southeast Asia.  At any rate, I've long wondered why the institution of orphanages seems to disappear as countries develop.  In places like the US or even Colombia, I don't believe there are many (any?) orphanages left.

Instead, there is a strong state institution in charge of assuring child wellbeing.  Such an institution works with parents that can't provide adequate love and care to their children, and tries to strengthen them in that regard.  If this doesn't work, the institution declares the parents unfit for childrearing, and looks for other family members that may be able to provide a decent home for the child.  If they can't find such family members, the institution looks to place the child in adoption with a family that's been extensively screened to determine their social, psychological, economic, and physical fitness to be good parents to the child.  And while the child is waiting, he or she is placed temporarily with a similarly-screened foster family.  I learned about this entire process recently when an official from the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing explained it to my wife and me.

So between my reading the article about the problems with orphanage tourism, and my learning about the global gold standard for protection and placement of adoptable children, I now understand that orphanages are a pretty distant last-best-choice for care of such children.  The article I've linked above describes in depth that the best environment for a child's development is within a family, with personalized, not institutionalized attention (as they'd receive in an orphanage).  Apparently, even if the family is poor and has its problems (as all families do), it's still usually a better option than an orphanage where the child won't get lots of close interaction with her caretaker, and may be even more likely to be subject to abuse than in the most dysfunctional of families.  The article further demonstrates that the trend of orphanage tourism creates perverse monetary incentives for orphanages to subject their children to even more depersonalized interactions (with the tourist strangers passing through day after day) and possibly abuse at the hand of these strangers.  And the monetary incentive creates a cycle in which families will even give up their children to these orphanages, because the orphanage revenue allows for it to provide schooling, healthcare, and other luxuries not afforded to the local families or their non-orphan children.

What the Quaker campaign against such orphanage tourism proposes is that people visit and donate to community projects that support marginalized families and children, without turning children into tourist attractions and thus hurting their normal mental development.

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