Why I am calling for childcare reform in Asia

Photo: Amanda Vail

Our Regional Director of Asia, Tessa Boudrie, highlights the link between gender discrimination and orphanages—and why she’s standing with women on the frontlines, fighting for change.

I have been a child protection specialist for over 20 years in Asia.

Childcare reform should be unrelated to gender, but unfortunately, it is still very much tied up with gender discrimination. In my work, we still see the need to talk about and place a special focus on women.

Over 2.5 billion women and girls around the world are affected by discriminatory laws and the lack of legal protection.

In many countries in Asia, women still don’t have the same rights as men. The major decisions about childcare, social care systems and infrastructure are made by men, many of whom are in positions of power in government, and may perpetuate gender inequality.

“Over 2.5 billion women and girls around the world are affected by discriminatory laws and the lack of legal protection.”

Alongside economic disparities affecting women, discriminatory laws make it more difficult for families, and in particular single-women households, to raise a child. In some cases, single or unmarried mothers are advised to give up their children at birth. And the problem is cyclical; often, girls placed in orphanages are at greater risk of forced marriage or trafficking for sexual exploitation, and have a lower chance of success in life overall.

When children are at risk, too often, the “easy” route in Asia is to place them in institutional care, instead of keeping them in families with the people who love them. The reasons for this are many: from poverty, to domestic violence and abuse, to lack of access to education, teen pregnancy, or the stigma of disability.

There are many alternatives to institutions, to look after children at risk, including kinship care, foster care, and domestic adoptions. Also, there are often trusted community members who can care for children in a safe environment ensuring that children can maintain their friendships and schooling while their family issues are being resolved. Keeping children in their communities, when safe to do so, is critical in ensuring that there are fewer disruptions to their development and that they are close to the things and people they know and love.

At Hope and Homes for Children, we work with governments and families in Asia to keep children in families and avoid institutionalisation, and we do this together with local partners. We advise and help educate communities and families, and support governments’ journeys towards functional social and child protection systems. We do a lot of capacity building and based on our global learning, demonstrate examples of how family-based care can work. We ensure the right community facilities and services are available and empower communities to prevent family separation.

Although many of the decisions are currently made by men, it’s often women on the frontlines, fighting for change.

Forget Me Not in Nepal—led by Anju Pun—is an excellent example of an organisation founded by women, who have worked tirelessly to change the status quo in a steady, sensitive and efficient way.

“Although many of the decisions are currently made by men, it’s often women on the frontlines, fighting for change.”

I joined Hope and Homes for Children two and-a-half years ago, as I was inspired by a remarkable woman—Dr Delia Pop—who is one of the pioneers in this area, with extensive global knowledge and expertise in care reform.

The women I work with in Nepal and India are true inspirations, role models, great examples and advocates. Part of our job at Hope and Homes for Children is sharing best practices from other countries we have worked in, with a common goal to eliminate orphanages for good—but the truth is more often I feel like I am the one who is learning.

I am a cisgender woman, and I go by she/her. It is 2021 and we have to respect the number of different genders people identify with. In discussions with my 13-year-old daughter (she/her), we always emphasise that we are all human, and I truly hope she grows up in a more inclusive world.

Too often, the voices and stories of women, especially those involved in the care of children, is marginalised and hidden. Throughout March, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate how the empowerment of women also helps to ensure children grow up with the love of a family and the safety of home.

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