18 December 2019

Landmark moment as the UN calls for the end of orphanages

Today, for the first time ever, all 193 member states of the United Nations have formally recognised that orphanages don’t protect children, they harm them, and have called for the progressive elimination of institutional care globally.

UN General Assembly, New York 16 December 2019. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The UN General Assembly in New York, 16 December. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

On 18 December 2019, the UN General Assembly in New York adopted a Resolution on the Rights of The Child that signifies a major milestone in ending the institutional care of children globally. By adopting the Resolution, all of the 193 member states of the United Nations have agreed, for the first time in history, that orphanages harm children and, recognising that the vast majority of children in orphanages have living family, all children should be reunited with or supported to remain with their families. Where that’s not possible, the Resolution says that governments should commit to provide high-quality, family and community-based alternative care for children.

The Resolution, which comes on the tenth anniversary of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, contains a number of groundbreaking commitments:

  • Over 80% of children in orphanages are not orphans, but have a living parent, and the UN General Assembly has recognised the critical need to invest to keep families together. The Resolution urges member states to adopt and enforce policies, services and programmes and direct budget towards supporting families and tackle the issues that cause them to be vulnerable in the first place.
  • For those children who cannot live with their own family, or have no biological family, the Resolution urges states to make available a range of high quality, accessible and disability-inclusive alternative care options, in line with the UN’s own Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and taking into account the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
  • For the first time ever, the UN General Assembly has recognised that volunteering in orphanages, including short visits by tourists, can encourage the existence of institutional care and lead to children being actively recruited to orphanages. The Resolution calls on states to combat the trafficking and exploitation of children in care facilities, and to take appropriate measures to prevent and address the harms related to orphanage volunteering and tourism. Read more about our newly-formed Orphanage Tourism Taskforce, in partnership with ABTA
  • The Resolution reaffirms states’ responsibility to protect the human rights of children in alternative care, including by protecting them against all forms of violence and abuse in all care settings.
  • There are an estimated 8 million children living in orphanages across the world, but the true total is not known because children living outside families are often left out of national statistical data. The UN General Assembly has, for the first time, recognised this dire global data gap and has called on states to improve data collection, information management and reporting systems.

 

“Recognising that the vast majority of children in orphanages have living family, all children should be reunited with or supported to remain with their families. Where that’s not possible, the Resolution says that governments should commit to provide high-quality, family and community-based alternative care for children.”

 

The UN Resolution on the Rights of the Child is an annual statement by all the countries of the United Nations and each year it highlights a different aspect of Child Rights. As a product of the UN General Assembly, the text is negotiated in detail before the Assembly, with the European Union and Latin America & Caribbean Countries taking it in turns to lead the drafting process. This year, the European Union countries took on the drafting role.

Behind the scenes, Hope and Homes for Children played a leading role in a coalition of over 250 child protection organisations that developed the recommendations to share with governments and their negotiators over many months. Although UN General Assembly resolutions are political rather than legally binding documents, this resolution is an important demonstration of all of the global commitment to supporting children without parental care. With this new consensus language, children’s advocates like Hope and Homes for Children and those we work with around the world can approach UN member states to welcome the commitments they have made in this resolution and hold them to account.

Mark Waddington, CEO of Hope and Homes for Children commented:

“The adoption of the Resolution at the UN General Assembly underlines what we’ve known for a long time, that children never belong in orphanages, they always belong in a family. The fact that all 193 member states of the UN, the vast majority of the world’s countries, have made this public declaration shows that orphanages are now widely recognised as an unacceptable way to care for children.

“The Resolution is a significant step towards protecting children, supporting families and fulfilling our vision of a world where no children suffer institutional care, but there is much work to be done to ensure that states follow through on their commitment. Our work continues with Governments, partners and communities to keep families together, reunite families, build new families and end orphanages.”

 

“The Resolution is a significant step towards protecting children, supporting families and fulfilling our vision… but there is much work to be done to ensure that states follow through on their commitment.”

 

Read more about the UN Resolution wording and the growing global movement to end institutional care in this blog by Nolan Quigley, Hope and Homes for Children’s Global Advocacy Advisor.