Blog Excerpts from Anti Slavery : Martin Punaks from Lumos on the legal recognition of orphanage trafficking by the US TiP 2017 report and what it means for children.
Around the world, an estimated 8 million children are living in orphanages, despite the fact that 80% of these children are not orphans. Children who grow up in orphanages are denied their right to family-based care, which – with the right support – is entirely possible. The causes of institutionalization are complex and varied, but Lumos’ work is increasingly showing there is a link between it and trafficking – and that unscrupulous individuals are making money from the abuse of the very children they purport to protect.
Lumos’ recent research in Haiti highlights numerous examples of orphanage directors paying ‘child-finders’ to recruit children to orphanages through deception or coercion in order to receive donations from abroad. Lumos found evidence of at least $70 million per year being provided by international private donors to just over one-third of Haiti’s 750 orphanages, which equates to one third of all US foreign aid to Haiti. These vast sums of unregulated money incentivise traffickers to remove children from their families and exploit them.
A further piece of good news is that the TIP Report US Government Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, – for the first time ever – has recognized that orphanages are a destination point for trafficked children, which historically has never been acknowledged before. At present this has only been recognized in one country – Nepal – where orphanage trafficking was first documented by child rights activists at the end of Nepal’s civil war (1996 to 2006).
More recently in Kenya, the Director of Good Samaritan Childrens’ Home in Mathare, Nairobi was among two ladies arrested in October 2018 over child-trafficking. A five-month old baby boy was also rescued in the operation. Detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) believe that the baby was to be illegally offered for fostering as part of a trafficking plot. Kenyan Children’s Home Director Arrested Over Child Trafficking
Conor Grennan was one of the first people to write about this in his harrowing story of Nepali children being separated from their parents by traffickers and placed in ‘orphanages’ where they were forced to beg on the streets and lie to foreign volunteers that their parents had died. Grennan’s organisation, Next Generation Nepal, has shown how traffickers promise families that children will receive an education if they pay money to take them to urban areas to study in boarding schools – in reality these are fake orphanages where children are abused and used to elicit financial donations from volunteers and donors.
In 2016 the Department of Children’s Services in Kiambu County -Kenya with the help of the Thika Police Unit raided a home in Gatuanyaga Location of Thika East District and rescued about 150 children who were living in filthy conditions, suspected to be indoctrinated into some suspicious religious cult as well as being sexually abused by the administration. 150 Kenyan Children Rescued from Cult Like Children’s Home
So what made the US Government decide to recognize this phenomenon as ‘trafficking’? Almost certainly it was partly the result of more than a decade of compelling evidence documented by civil society and the media. But a key factor behind this decision has likely been a legal argument made by the lawyer Kate van Doore, of Griffith University.
Van Doore focusses on the exploitation component of the Trafficking Protocol, arguing that – in addition to being used for financial gain – children in orphanages are sexually exploited, forced to beg (akin to child labour), kept in slavery-like conditions, and exploited in many other ways. Crucially, Van Doore demonstrates how these arguments also apply to US trafficking law.
The implications for orphanage trafficking being recognized in the TIP Report are wide ranging. It will encourage Governments to take action against this form of trafficking. It will influence how donors allocate funds. It will increase opportunities for the criminalization of perpetrators under an anti-trafficking mandate, and will allow for children who have been removed from their families and institutionalized to be accepted as survivors of trafficking. Most significantly, it will open the door for similar recognition and action in other countries.