Never has ‘Happy New Year’ been wished with more universal sincerity and hope, than now, as the world welcomes in 2022.
Happy New Year. If, like me, you have spent time reflecting on the past year and planning for the new one, may you have found many things to draw hope from. Because, if I learned anything in 2021, it was that hope cannot be exhausted.
For almost 30 years, hope has driven this organisation of just 250 people in our efforts to eliminate the institutionalisation of children across ten countries. To fight for every child to feel the love and belonging of a safe, family home. To inspire organisations, including the UN, EU and governments around the world, to close the doors of orphanages forever. Because orphanages harm children. Here’s a reminder of the facts:
- More than half the children confined in orphanages around the world suffer violence of one form or another. That includes rape and torture from staff, people from outside who pay for access to them, and from other children they are confined with.
- Orphanages regiment the lives of children and are unable to provide the intimate care that a family can, leading to alarming levels of neglect. The impact of this neglect is so severe in babies and young children that it harms their neurological development in ways that can have lifelong consequences.
- Orphanages isolate children from their communities. Not only does this lead to stigma and prevent children from forming the support and friendship networks we all need, but it reduces transparency and scrutiny of what goes on behind the barred windows and metal doors. Because in the worst cases, orphanages traffic children into the sex industry or for their body parts.
This is why Hope and Homes for Children exists. It is why your commitment matters. And it is why I am writing this letter, to thank each and every supporter of our work in 2021. Despite 2021 being a very challenging year in which we had to take deeply difficult decisions, we also took incredibly important steps towards a world where every child will thrive in a strong, supported family – steps we couldn’t have taken without our supporters.
What 2021 has shown us is that as challenges get tougher, we work harder. And we are winning.
In the last two years despite the horrendous impacts of Covid and ongoing restrictions to our work, we’ve prevented more than 150,000 children from being separated from their families, getting to the root causes of the grievous problems they and their families face.
This is vital work, because keeping children out of orphanages is a critical component of addressing the global orphanage challenge. Why? Because today, still, the vast majority of children confined within orphanages are not actually orphans. They don’t need to be there. And yet more than five and a half million children around the world remain confined in this way. The reason? Money.
Orphanages are a lucrative business. Many countries have actual orphanage economies, like Uganda which receives many millions of pounds every year from churches in the USA, charities in Europe and from tourists who visit the country. Some of those orphanages employ child finders to go into villages to make false promises to parents that their child will receive a western-style education, food and clothing. More often though, their child becomes exploited as a fundraising commodity and might never see their Mum or Dad again. Just to put the scale of this into perspective, when the successful anti-retroviral programme was introduced into Uganda, mortality due to HIV/Aids thankfully plummeted. So, too, did the number of genuine orphans. And yet the population of children hoovered into the orphanage economy has increased since then from around 2,000 or so to a figure approaching 60,000. This kind of situation is common in many countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In European countries monolithic state orphanage systems are swollen with the numbers of children they confine. Within the loveless places of those systems a different kind of orphanage economy is built. Budgets are formulated on a per capita basis, so the more children you have in the system the greater the funding that is allocated to it. At a cost of around £7,500 per child per year, and with tens of thousands of children being taken out of their families and placed into orphanages, very often for issues that could be addressed at home with the right support, we’re talking about a lot – and I mean a lot – of money being employed to deprive those children of their freedom and of their families. In Ukraine alone we estimate that some 80,000 children are locked up in this way.
This is a crisis of global proportions. It’s not right and it must stop. Because for the very youngest children in particular, for every three months they spend in an orphanage, they lose one month of physical growth. For all children, regardless of their age, the consequences are life-long.
With our supporters by our side, we have continued to pioneer ways of preventing children from ever having to be separated from their families in the first place. This includes help with childcare so that Mum and Dad can work, support with finding work or developing ways of generating an income. We’ve helped families with food, housing and medicine, and sometimes counselling to support vulnerable parents – and never has this been more needed than through the Covid pandemic.
This is why your support is so important.