09 March 2020

Why the commitment of the Commonwealth is vital to the end of orphanages

Cary is back with her family after years in an orphanage

Cary is back with her family after years in an orphanage thanks to Rwanda’s pioneering commitment to close orphanages and support families instead. Rwanda takes the chair of the influential Commonwealth group of nations this summer.

In June this year, Rwanda will take over as chair of the Commonwealth. So what makes this a critical moment in the growing movement to eliminate orphanages?

Asks Nolan Quigley, Global Advocacy Advisor, Hope and Homes for Children

A voluntary association of 54 independent countries, the Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people, a third of the world’s population and one in three of its young people.

The organisation includes some of the largest and richest countries in the world, together with some of the smallest and least developed states. Whilst most are former British colonies, the modern Commonwealth describes itself as a ‘family of nations’. As such, it has a unique approach to convening discussions among countries, encouraging the sharing of innovation and novel approaches to the common challenges that they face.

 

“The Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people, a third of the world’s population… Whilst most [members] are former British colonies, the modern Commonwealth describes itself as a ‘family of nations’.”

 

The Commonwealth include countries where very high numbers of children remain confined to orphanages including India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Kenya and Uganda. It also includes donor countries like the UK, Canada and Australia—from where much funding for orphanages originates. Rwanda, a country widely recognised across Africa for its work to end the use of orphanages, joined the Commonwealth in 2009 and will take over as chair of the organisation at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, due to take place in Kigali, in June.

As part of the growing global movement to end the use of orphanages worldwide, Hope and Homes for Children recognises this as an important opportunity to focus attention on the extraordinary progress that has been made for children in Rwanda and elsewhere and to call on members of the Commonwealth to commit to work towards the elimination of orphanages worldwide.

 

“This as an important opportunity to focus attention on the extraordinary progress that has been made… and to call on members of the Commonwealth to commit to work towards the elimination of orphanages worldwide.”

 

We hope that such a stand would galvanise global action—shifting national and international investment away from orphanage-based systems and preventing babies and children from being placed in these harmful institutions in the first place.

Around the world, 8 million children are growing up in orphanages without a family to love them and give them the sense of belonging that’s so vital for all children to be able to develop and thrive.

Yet it is not a lack of families, but a lack of support for families, that drives children into orphanages. Studies worldwide show that 80% or more of the children in orphanages today have at least one living parent or other close relative who could care for them if they had the right support. Poverty, disability and discrimination are among the pressures that force families to relinquish their children to institutions.

Rwanda is the first country in Africa to commit to shutting all its orphanages and ensuring that every child grows up with a family to love and protect them.

 

“Rwanda is the first country in Africa to commit to shutting all its orphanages and ensuring that every child grows up with a family to love and protect them.”

 

Since 2012, Hope and Homes for Children has been working alongside the Rwandan government to end institutional care by reuniting children with their families, building new families through fostering and adoption and crucially, ensuring the support that’s needed to keep families together in the first place.

To date, Rwanda has succeeded in reducing the number of children living in orphanages for children without disabilities by more than 80%. With the help of funding provided by UK Aid, Hope and Homes for Children is now working with the authorities and other partners to pioneer the closure of institutions for children with disabilities.

Rwanda’s role as the chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years offers a vital opportunity to persuade governments around the world that they must act now, in line with the UN’s recent landmark Resolution on the Rights of the Child, to acknowledge that orphanages harm children and to support families instead. It is an opportunity we will not miss.

UK Aid from the British people