An Australian children’s charity is today warning health workers and volunteers to be wary of organisations targeting them to participate in “outreach” holidays to developing communities, in order to help with daily care – and particularly massage – of children and babies in orphanages.
The infant mental health promotion organisation, Baby in Mind, explains that these types of programs tend to do far more harm than good. “There are few of us who are not affected when we see the harrowing conditions in overseas orphanages” explained Alice Campbell, CEO of Baby in Mind. “However, we are now seeing that these types of volunteering programs are having the opposite effect and leaving children much worse off”.
“In Australia we would never allow tourists – complete strangers, without any background checks and a mere few days of un-accredited ‘training’ – to turn up to do bathing and massage of our children as part of their ‘holiday experience’. Yet, this is exactly what these companies are promoting for children in developing communities.
According to research undertaken by Baby in Mind more Australian health workers and volunteers are being lured by these orphanage tour programs – who charge high fees and make promises of changing a child’s life – unfortunately usually for the worse.
There are a number of reasons for the devastating effects of orphanage tourism, outlined in a statement released by Baby in Mind, who are part of the World Health Organisation Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Partnership.
“Current estimates are that 80% – 90% of all children in orphanages actually have at least one living parent” said Ms. Campbell. “Having been separated from their mum, dad or extended family to be cared for by strangers, many of these children are already extremely traumatized. By bringing in a constant turnover of strangers, who are around for only a few days or weeks and then abruptly leave, these children are re-exposed to extreme levels of loss and emotional trauma, over and over again. Massage in particular has many long-term benefits for babies and young children, but without formal accredited training, volunteers are likely to be doing way more harm than good. This has such long-term implications for children’s social and mental health development”.
“Organisations such as UNICEF and Friends International have also found organised orphanage tours helps perpetuate the activity of human traffickers and pedophiles. Orphanages are in fact, now big business. Local child welfare agencies clearly telling us that there are a growing number of “orphanages” that have been established specifically to capitalise on a growing demand from people who want a meaningful holiday experience” explained Ms. Campbell.
The charity is urging people who are interested in hands-on volunteering to instead consider becoming involved with organisations who provide to training local caregivers, who are involved in preventing child abandonment, and actively support reunification of children with their families.
Download the full Position Statement from Baby in Mind