As I journeyed beyond the orphanage, I always almost turn my heart and mind to vulnerable children across the globe and how they chart their life paths. Anytime I do that, I am reminded of my little self in the orphanage many years back. I believe in the “To every child, a family” movement. Thankfully, the worlds effort to get kids out of orphanages has gained momentum.
Two years into starting my advocacy career through book writing, several years after I left the orphanage, I have had many people asking me what my take is regarding children living in orphanages. Most often, I only smile whenever I am asked this question. The truth is, the day I walked through the door of the orphanage to the outside world, I had to deal with building my confidence and self-esteem and, most importantly, becoming emotionally independent. Getting these aspects of my life fixed didn’t come on a silver platter. It came with making a lot of grievous mistakes and learning from them.
After many years, I sense I am ready to give my version of why children should grow up in families and not institutions (Full details in my upcoming book to be released in December 2022).
Orphanage provides a temporary solution
I would say the orphanage provides a temporary solution but has a lasting negative impact on its inmates. Talk about the emotional imbalance, attachment disorders, being kicked out at 18 years, family dysfunctionalities, etc. In orphanages, children tend to hoard everything from food to toys and even compete for affection with the caretakers. The constant change of Caretakers in orphanages and group homes has a rapid turnover. This interferes with the child’s attachment abilities, affecting the child in the short term and in long-term relationships. Children need the stability that only families can offer. Strong families provide lifelong support – it doesn’t end with age 18. However, with most orphanages and group homes, the material needs and the emotional support abruptly halt when the child comes of legal age.
According to agreed international definitions, an institution (orphanage) is any residential setting where children and young people are subjected to an ‘institutional culture.’ This is characterized by features such as depersonalization, the rigidity of routine, and lack of individual support or personal treatment. In institutions, care lacks consistency, permanency, and continuity. Children in institutions are often excluded from the wider community, with limited contact with birth families or caregivers. Many children in institutions have very little knowledge of their cultural heritage and traditions. Many parents worldwide send their children to orphanages to give them access to an education and a better life.
But despite the promises made by orphanages, the education they provide is very rarely of a satisfactory standard. Not only do children in orphanages have lower educational attainment, they are also at higher risk of neglect and abuse.
Poverty is one of the main reasons children end up in orphanages
Across the globe, intensive efforts are underway to get children out of orphanages. Bulgaria and the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova have made strides. China says it can now provide care for three-quarters of its orphans and abandoned children via foster homes or adoption. Rwanda is an orphanage free, with Kenya, Ghana, and other African Countries gradually making strides. The goal of family-based care is no more elusive in countries globally. Almost every country is getting involved.
“We are almost at the brink of achieving a global movement — putting orphanages back into history books,” said Dr. Delia Pop, the Romanian director of global advocacy with Britain-based Hope and Homes for Children, which has worked to dismantle orphanages in 30 countries.
It took the 2009 report of an unfortunate incident about an eight-month-old boy in an Accra care homes to alert Ghanaian officials that all might not be well with their country’s orphanages. Investigators of the sad issue discovered to their shock that of the 32 children living in the orphanage 27 were not orphans.
Since then, the Social Welfare Department has reported that only eight of the 148 orphanages operating throughout the country are licensed. As many as 90% of the 4,500 children in these homes have not lost both parents.
All 54 Commonwealth nations announce a historic commitment to eliminate orphanage,
All 54 Commonwealth nations announce a historic commitment to eliminate orphanage, at the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has made a historic commitment to eliminating orphanages, agreed by all 54 Commonwealth nations: The Kigali Declaration.
Over one-third of the world’s children live in the 54 nations of the Commonwealth. On Saturday, 25th June, the Commonwealth announced that this declaration had been unanimously agreed upon. It is one of only four unanimous declarations at the summit. A milestone moment in the fight against orphanages. This agreement is a milestone moment in the movement to rid the world of harmful and unnecessary orphanages. Orphanages that deprive children of a family and expose them to neglect and abuse. Over 80% of children in orphanages have living parents but are confined to orphanages because of disability, discrimination and poverty. Rwanda is on the brink of becoming Africa’s first orphanage-free nation.
The ‘Starlight Declaration’
CHOGM delegates have already declared this the ‘Starlight Declaration’ of the summit because of the hope it will bring to millions of children suffering in the shadows, incarcerated in harmful orphanages.
The Kigali Declaration is particularly important right now as:
Eliminating orphanages is a precondition to developing effective child protection and care systems. And we’ve demonstrated it’s a winnable mission.
Within the next few decades, the UN estimates that half of the world’s children will be African. In due course, half of humanity will be African. Getting child protection and care policy, practice, and resourcing right in Africa will give humanity its greatest hope.
Rwanda is marshaling African countries to make that difference. It’s leading the way by investing directly in families and the capabilities of communities to protect and care for children. It’s only a few years away from closing its last orphanage. As Chair of the Commonwealth, Rwanda’s in a position to convene and lead those nations already making commitments to eliminate orphanages.
The Commonwealth has a unique approach to convening discussions among countries. It incubates innovation and technical collaboration and develops home-grown, culturally rooted, and highly effective approaches to common challenges. This makes the probability of successfully implementing this declaration all the more likely.
The Hope and Homes for Children CEO, Mark Waddington CBE, put it this way:
The reform starts with you but most importantly, understand that orphanages can be eliminated globally. But to achieve this goal, there should be a change in country-specific child protection systems and policies.