As many as two thirds of the 15,000 children kept in ‘orphanages’ in Nepal are not, in fact, orphans, with the criminals who run the establishments duping naive Western volunteers into providing funding
The shocking report by Next Generation Nepal also reveals that many of these children are kept in appalling conditions, outlines how the trade in children has grown into a lucrative business and shows how well-meaning Western volunteers are conned in the process. Mark Watson of Tourism Concern in the UK said volunteering in orphanages in Nepal is in fact fueling child trafficking.
The report says that the business in bogus orphanages and the trafficking of children started during the ten-year civil war which ended in 2006. Desperate families would sell their children to avoid them being conscripted into the rebel Maoist army. When many Western nations stopped inter-country adoption from Nepal in the last decade, the criminal gangs started developing bogus orphanages to target well-meaning tourists.
The report, The Paradox of Orphanage Volunteering, says: ‘With money to be made from running orphanages in tourist areas, the traffickers have simply had to ensure an ongoing supply of “destitute” children to attract donations from sympathetic tourists.’
In recent years, a number of bogus orphanages have been shut down and the children reunited with their families. The report details the poor conditions found in some of the worst ‘orphanages’ with children kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions with little food and clothing.
Girls rescued from an orphanage in 2012. Photo via: Eva Capozzola/Forget Me Not
CASE STUDY 1
‘The economic conditions in my village were not good, so I moved our family to the Kathmandu Valley. But the children’s mother ended up in jail, and I was working as a servant so I was not able to properly care for the children. I sent Archana and Balaji to an orphanage because I thought they would be better off there than with me. Little did I know, Goma [the woman running the orphanage] would make a business out of it. I guess I was ignorant about the conditions before the rescue. I used to go to the orphanage to pick up my kids for their long holidays, but I was never allowed in the rooms of the house. I only realized how horrible things really were after Archana and Balaji were rescued and NGN found me… I missed them! I felt very sad. But beyond missing them, I convinced myself that it was for the better. I used to hear all these stories about children growing up in orphanages – well fed and properly educated. I had to work, and their mother was not around to take care of them. I just had no choice.’
Manish, whose children were rescued by Central Child Welfare Board in 2011
A girl reunited with her family. Photo via: Next Generation Nepal/The Himalayan Innovative Society
CASE STUDY 2
‘I was taken from my village to get a better education. When I reached the house where I would stay, I saw many children there. At first I thought it was not bad, but after one month, it was getting worse and worse. There was not enough food for the children and there were not enough clothes for us to wear. After a while the food completely finished and we needed to go to the street to beg for money to buy food. On some days we did not eat any food and went to sleep without eating. We did not go to school and we did not get an education.’
Chetra, 19, taken from his home in Humla to an orphanage in Kathmandu when aged nine
Download the full report here.