LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A charity founded by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling called on Wednesday for businesses, lawyers and tourists to help end orphanages and the child-trafficking linked to them.
An estimated 8 million children live in orphanages worldwide and other institutions, yet more than 80 percent are not orphans, Lumos says.
Some orphanages recruit children to boost donations and “exploit the goodwill of donors and volunteers”, Chloe Setter, a modern slavery expert at Lumos told the Trust Conference, which is organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
To supply orphanages, traffickers may trick poor families into handing over their children with promises they will receive an education, experts at the London conference said.
Setter said all institutions - even well-run ones - were seriously detrimental to children’s health and development.
Individuals, governments, businesses, charities and faith organizations who donate to orphanages, and tourists who visit or volunteer at them, are perpetuating a harmful form of care and risk fuelling trafficking, Setter said.
“This is one form of exploitation where for the most part it’s being exacerbated by good people wanting to do good things,” she said.
“Changing hearts and minds is really important in this particular area of trafficking ... Children need families, not institutions.”
Lumos says most families could look after their children, with the right support, while children without families could be cared for within their communities.
It wants to redirect the donations that pour into orphanages into strengthening families and communities to this end.
Setter said support could include improving access to education, healthcare and services for children with disabilities, boosting foster care and creating livelihood opportunities to reduce the poverty that traffickers exploit.
“With political will, careful planning and expertise, we can ensure children live with families and are not trafficked to make money for orphanage owners,” she said.
Setter urged businesses to examine their supply chains to check whether they support orphanages in any way and ensure their staff do not volunteer in orphanages.
She called on lawyers to support efforts to persuade governments to strengthen their anti-slavery laws and policies, and to secure trafficking prosecutions.
Some countries are already tackling the issue, she said, citing Bulgaria which has dramatically reduced the number of children in institutions and is aiming to close all by 2025.
The UBS Optimus Foundation, which works with the UBS bank and private philanthropists to help vulnerable children, told the conference it would pledge at least $2 million to Lumos and other organizations to promote family-based care and strengthen care systems.
Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org