Stop The Orphanage Business : Ramesh Danekhu

Yet another heartbreaking story has surfaced. Government officials of the Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB) raided an orphanage in the capital run by an NGO. As per the news stories published in the papers, 16 boys and girls who were living in a miserable condition were rescued by these officials, who found that the home wasn't providing proper food or a livable environment. Moreover, there was not a single responsible adult to take care of these children at night - an example of the optimum level of negligence in an orphanage of Nepal.

Welcome step

The act by the CCWB is a welcome step. The CCWB will now work towards reintegrating these children with their families, which has been found to be a good practice, rather than transferring them to another child care home or orphanage. The owners, whom the police are looking for, must have opened this orphanage to make a fast buck by collecting donations for their personal benefit.

Here, the most important thing is that the CCWB and other responsible sectors have to regularly monitor child care homes and orphanages because it is a well-known fact that, in Nepal, orphanages are being run for earning money.

But, this does not mean that all orphanages of Nepal are run with ill-motive. There are numerous well-run organisations that genuinely support orphans and deprived children. Many of them successfully unite children with their families while some children have been living good quality life with proper schooling, a good living environment and proper care.

It has come to light that there are dozens or even hundreds of child care homes and orphanages being run with motives other than philanthropic. At the end of 2013, the media broke a similar story of an orphanage at Anamnagar, Kathmandu. A sixteen-year-old girl was found begging in the streets to feed 10 other children who lived in this 'orphanage' while the operators were enjoying a luxurious life from the funds they were getting through donations. In Banepa, too, an owner of an orphanage was taken into custody for embezzling funds.

A similar racket was exposed by the media in mid-January 2014.  An orphanage by the name of Happy Home had been operating in Lalitpur for personal gains. The reality of Happy Home came to the surface after a woman was not allowed to meet her children who were living in the home. She filed a complaint, and it led to the exposure of the owner's involvement in financial fraud, milking the donors and using this money for personal gain rather than for the children.  These are some incidents that shed light on the fact that orphanages are increasingly becoming a blooming business in Nepal.

As per the data of the CCWB, in Nepal, there are 787 registered orphanages, with over 15,000 children living there. And it is estimated that majority of the children in these so-called orphanage have living parents. These children are portrayed as 'orphans', so that warm-hearted donors could be lured. Unfortunately, these children are not the beneficiaries of the funds thus raised. Only a small amount goes for the welfare of the children, as a result they suffer from negligence and at times even abuse. Unfortunately, people are increasingly being attracted towards this easy way of earning.

For them, these children are products to be marketed for raising funds. Volunteers, knowingly or unknowingly, get involved in this process. Most of the kids are brought from the rural, marginalised and impoverished areas. Either they are trafficked or are taken away from their parents with assurances of a better life and education opportunity. But, promises are not always kept.

Children are separated from their families, kept in so-called 'orphanages' in sub-standard conditions where they usually become victims of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Managers and owners of Nepal Tuhura Kalyan Sangh, Morning Start Children's Charity, Abinas Anath Ashram were charged with rape or attempted rape. The leading orphanage of Nepal, Balmandir, too has had its set of complaints, one of which was the sexual abuse of three minor girls living there by an ex-student and an ex-employee. The two involved in the heinous act have been awarded sixteen-and-a-half years in prison by the Kathmandu District Court and are now behind bars.

Research shows that 90 per cent of the orphanages are concentrated in five districts: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Kaski and Chitwan. What is common to these districts is that they are all popular tourist destinations.  The tourists not only provide donation but also do volunteering work. On returning home, feeling proud of what they have done, these tourists become goodwill ambassadors to these business orphanages. This is how the owners raise funds. Besides, these orphanages allow the foreigners to adopt their kids in return for big money.

Organisations working for child rights have dug out quite a few high-profile scandals where politicians, the police and policymakers have been found involved. The orphanage owners need to be severely punished. At the same time, the government needs to push forward a stronger policy for monitoring these orphanages. If this doesn't happen then the government is equally to be blamed for not doing its best to ensure that these children have what is rightfully theirs.

Mere legislations not enough

When these children's homes are not closely monitored and regulated, they turn into a profit-making business. Besides, the donors should not be limited to just sending money but also ensuring that their money is being used properly. The strict implementation of the UN Rights of the Child, Child Rights Policy, 2012, Standard for Operation and Management of Residential Child Care Home, 2012 will definitely help.

And, the genuineness of 'voluntourism' should be searched. Yet a question will always prevail, 'Is an orphanage the real solution to manage these children?'

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