The Orphanage Business

In this segment from BBC Radio 4, File on 4 reports from Uganda on conditions in UK-funded orphanages where, in the worst cases, children are neglected, exploited and abused by orphanage staff, tourists, volunteers, and donors. In the segment, the reporter accompanies a local government official, a translator, and police officers on a "raid" of one of these orphanages in Uganda, funded by donors from the UK, that are unlicensed and identified to be closed down by the Ugandan government. The orphanage they visit, she notes, has been misrepresented to donors - the institution has gone by a few different names and the photos found online of a "reputable charity with a similar name" were a stark contrast to what they found upon entering the orphanage. "This is clearly a different place with a different organization," says the reporter. The reporter describes the very poor conditions of the institution and the lack of medical treatment for the children there. During the raid, the government officer began calling the children's families to come pick them up, which many of them did. Later, the reporter accompanies the government officer to return some of the girls from this institution to their home nearby, where they are reintegrated with their family.

The segment also includes an interview with Mark Waddington, CEO of Hope and Homes for Children, who describes how orphanages have been set up as a money-making business in "a community that might be on a tourist route, or they might even have links to churches in the UK, Europe, or the US." According to the segment, in the 1990s, there were fewer than 2,000 children living in institutions in Uganda and now there are more than 55,000 children in orphanages, which he attributes to the "huge amounts of money being donated from countries like the UK." In these cases, the children are being turned into commodities to generate income, which benefits the people who run the orphanages. "Professional child-finders are actually recruited by some of these orphanage businesses to go into villages and persuade parents to give up their children. And, of course, these families are very vulnerable, they're living in signficant poverty and with the consequences of that poverty," says Waddington.

"Uganda is a country that has seen massive growth in the number of 'orphanages' providing homes to children, despite the numbers of orphans there decreasing," says the description of this radio segment. "It's believed 80% of children now living in orphanages have at least one living parent. The majority of the hundreds of orphanages operating in Uganda are illegal, unregistered and now are in a fight with a government trying to shut them down. Dozens on the government's list for closure are funded by charities and church groups based in the UK. With widespread concerns about abuse, trafficking and exploitation of children growing up in orphanages are funders in the UK doing enough to make sure their donations aren't doing more harm than good?"