Orphanages and voluntourism in Nepal
Child Trafficking and Exploitation in Children’s Homes
There are over 11,000 children living in ‘orphanages’ in Nepal, yet an estimated two-thirds of these children are not orphans. Despite international and Nepali laws and policies against the use of children’s homes, except as a last resort, thousands of children continue to be displaced from their families into children’s home.
‘Orphanages’ have become a lucrative business in Nepal with profit to be made from both the families-who are deceived as to what will happen to their children- and from well-intentioned foreign tourists who donate funds in the belief they are supporting genuine orphans. 90% of the 759 children’s homes in Nepal are located in the tourist areas of the country, i.e., Kathmandu, Lalitpur/Patan, Bhaktapur, Kaski and Chitwan. It is not unusual for children living in ‘orphanages’ to be maltreated, and in fact Government data shows that only 10% of children’s homes in Nepal meet the Government’s own legal standards. It is very common for children in homes to be denied access to their families and forced to lie about their names and origins, and in some cases to suffer physical, psychological and sexual abuse. This causes long-term psychological damage on the children concerned, and it puts them at significant social and economic and disadvantage as adults. Children’s homes commonly try to engender sympathy from tourists in the hope they will pay to volunteer or make financial donations. The willingness of tourists to provide funds to children’s homes endures the ongoing demand for children to be unnecessarily displaced from their families.
Orphanage Voluntourism usually begins with tourist paying a volunteer agency, or children’s home directly, for opportunity to volunteer at a children’s home for a few days or weeks. There are many volunteer and tourist agencies based in both Nepal and foreign countries which offer this service (it is likely that most foreign- based agencies are unaware of the illicit businesses they are involved with). Volunteers can pay up to US$200 per week to volunteer in a children’s home. What may begin as an ‘experience’ for tourist whilst on holiday can evolve into scenarios where they return home to raise funds for their chosen’ orphanage’ and in some cases, to establish their own INGOs in their home country to raise further funds.