JK Rowling has spoken passionately against the popular travel experience that sees young people pay to volunteer at an orphanage in a developing country, warning that it can contribute to the abuse and trafficking of children.
For the generation of students who are currently at university, many of them will be using their summers or taking a break after education to see more of the world, travelling to far flung countries to experience new cultures.
With this now the norm, a travel trend has emerged which sees typically people in their late teens or early 20s spend time at orphanages in developing countries, volunteering to help with building facilities and assist with the running of the organisation.
It’s incredible that opportunities to see the world and connect with people from completely different backgrounds are available, and even more so that so many people are keen to help those less fortunate than them. But although intentions are well meant, JK Rowling has delivered a powerful message about the reality behind many of these schemes.
Speaking at the One Young World summit in London, which is the global forum for young leaders, Rowling explained that many orphanages are not what they seem, with a large amount of children not actually without parents but rather separated from them due to poverty.
“Despite the best of intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse,” she said according to The Guardian.
“Institutionalism is one of the worst things you can do to children in the world. It has huge effects on their normal development, it renders children vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, and it massively impacts their life chances. And these dire statistics apply even to what we would see as well-run orphanages. The effect on children is universally poor.”
Rowling is founder and president of Lumos, the children’s charity which not only dedicates a large portion of its work to helping children in orphanages but is currently running a campaign called #HelpingNotHelping.
The campaign raises awareness around the issue of children being used as tourist attractions, and how in some cases, this can lead to children being trafficked and exploited. The campaign’s powerful tag line reads: “There are some places you should never be a tourist. Orphanages are one of them.”
The charity says that children in institutions are 500 times more likely to take their own lives, 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution.
Lumos also says that 80% of the eight million children currently living in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent.
Rowling is instead encouraging people who are keen to spend their time and money on helping children in disadvantaged circumstances to look at why this is happening, and to get involved with the campaign.