In this opinion piece for The Daily Star, Laila Khondkar - Head of Advocacy and Policy-Child Protection at Save the Children International - explains why donating money to orphanages, though well-intentioned, may cause more harm than good. "Those who are donating to orphanages or any other form of institution have good intentions. But is this the best way to support children?," Khondkar asks. In the piece, Khondkar describes seeing appeals on Bangladeshi television channels in the UK during the month of Ramadan, calling for viewers to donate to orphanages in Bangladesh. "Children living in institutions are at increased risk of violence, abuse, and neglect by staff, officials, volunteers, and visitors responsible for their care. Once in a while, the media in Bangladesh reports cases of children living in institutions trying to commit suicide and/or making escape attempts. This is just the tip of the iceberg," says Khondkar. "Institutionalisation has serious negative impacts on children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. After six months of institutionalisation, without the right support, babies and toddlers are at risk of never reaching full recovery."
Khondkar further notes the long-term impacts of institutionalization on children, who grow up to become adults with increased likelihood of living in poverty, along with "mental health problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, high-risk sexual behaviour and criminal behaviour." Khondkar continues, "for many parents, putting their children in institutions may seem like the best way to ensure their access to basic services such as education and healthcare. Children from ethnic minorities, children with disabilities, children living with HIV and children born out of wedlock are more likely to be placed in institutions. Globally, between 80 percent and 96 percent of all children inside institutions have living parents. This means they would be able to remain with family if the root causes were addressed."
Khondkar highlights the tenth anniversary of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children, which were endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in November 2009, and calls on governments to "improve care and protection through strengthening and reforming national child protection systems." Ten years after the Guidelines were endorsed, "the 2019 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the Rights of the Child will focus on children without parental care. This provides a good opportunity to the states and civil society members to review progress made in preventing unnecessary family-child separation and providing appropriate alternative care."