Thousands of children are living in orphanages in Haiti - but not because they are orphans

Of the estimated 8m children in orphanages worldwide, the vast majority of them have living parents

Thirty-two thousand children are languishing unnecessarily in 760 orphanages in Haiti. At least 80 per cent of these children have one or two living parents who want them, but have no access to health, education or social services in the community.

Haiti has a particularly substantial number of orphanages – in part because of the 2010 earthquake, and the international aid that flooded into the country after it. Yet the Haitian Government believe these orphanages are mostly made up of children who are not orphans but who have parents.

This comes as no surprise to us at Lumos, J.K. Rowling’s children’s charity. Of the estimated eight million children in institutions and orphanages worldwide, the vast majority of them have living parents. The children who end up living in orphanages are often separated from their families through poverty, disability, discrimination and a lack of services to support them.

This year, Lumos started working with local agencies in two Haiti orphanages that were in a very poor condition. Our immediate priority was to ensure they had clean water, proper food and any medical treatment they needed. The next step was, where possible, to help reunite those children with their families that could care for them with some support. But ultimately, we are working to end the use of orphanages and institutions for children entirely – not only in Haiti by 2030, but globally by 2050.

The reality on the ground is, if you build an orphanage, children will come. This is certainly true of Haiti and many other parts of the world.  But orphanages cannot replace families. Decades of research has shown that raising children in institutions and orphanages can seriously harm their health and development. Babies in particular, need close, sustained adult engagement to ensure their brains develop as they should.

We at Lumos are challenging an ingrained belief that orphanages are both good and necessary places for vulnerable children to be. And many of those who fund Haiti’s orphanages, from governmental agencies and NGOs to individual donors, are now beginning to accept the argument for reform.

Despite the challenging environment of Haiti, we aim to help reunite children with families, and work with the authorities to provide the community structures that help children there enjoy a family life where they can develop to their full potential. We are confident that we can demonstrate that there are no places in the world where this kind of reform is too difficult or cannot be achieved.

Lumos have also worked in Moldova since 2007. As one of Europe’s poorest nations, Moldova used to have one of the highest rates of institutionalised children, almost all of whom had living parents. In the last six years, the number of children in the country living in institutions has fallen by more than 70 per cent, and the savings from institution closures have been used to fund community services.

Haiti and Moldova are very different from one another, but they are united by the political commitment to transform the lives of disadvantaged children.

This week Lumos will co-host a major seminar on reform in Haiti with with Haitian governmental authorities and the US Agency for International Development. For more information see http://wearelumos.org/media-centre/latest-news

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