Commonwealth commits to eliminating orphanages

Carrol and his family at their home in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province, Rwanda in June 2022.

All 54 Commonwealth nations announce a historic commitment to eliminate orphanages, at the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali

Today the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has made an historic commitment to the elimination of orphanages, agreed by all 54 Commonwealth nations: The Kigali Declaration.

Over the last four years, we’ve been working behind the scenes with the Government of Rwanda, hosts of CHOGM 2022 and Chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years, on a declaration that will liberate millions of children confined in harmful orphanages across its member states.

Over one third of world’s children live in the 54 nations of the commonwealth.

On Saturday 25th June, the Commonwealth announced that this declaration has been unanimously agreed. It is one of only four unanimous declarations at the summit.

A milestone moment in the fight against orphanages

This agreement is a milestone moment in the movement to rid the world of harmful and unnecessary orphanages. Orphanages that deprive children of a family and expose them to neglect and abuse. Over 80% of children in orphanages have living parents but are confined to orphanages because of disability, discrimination and poverty.

Over 30 years, we’ve shown it is always possible for children to grow up in loving families: keeping families together, reuniting families and, when needed, building new families. Working with governments to reform systems and provide support services to keep families together.

Our work in Rwanda has transformed child protection and care. Rwanda is on the brink of becoming Africa’s first orphanage-free nation.

We won't leave children with disabilities behind

With a family to support her, Uwase is thriving. But she risked a life confined to a Rwandan orphanage because she was disabled

How loving families for disabled children will free Rwanda from orphanages

The ‘Starlight Declaration’

CHOGM delegates have already declared this the ‘Starlight Declaration’ of the summit, because of the hope it will bring to millions of children suffering in the shadows, incarcerated in harmful orphanages.

The Kigali Declaration is particularly important right now, as:

  • Eliminating orphanages is a precondition of developing effective child protection and care systems. And we’ve demonstrated it’s a winnable mission.
  • Within the next few decades the UN estimates that half of the world’s children will be African. In due course, half of humanity will be African. Getting child protection and care policy, practice and resourcing right in Africa will give humanity its greatest hope.
  • Rwanda is marshalling African countries to make that difference. It’s leading the way, by investing directly in families and the capabilities of communities to protect and care for children. It’s only a few years away from closing its last orphanage. As Chair of the Commonwealth, Rwanda’s in a position to convene and lead those nations that are already making commitments to eliminate orphanages.
  • The Commonwealth has a unique approach to convening discussions among countries. It incubates innovation and technical collaboration, and develops home-grown, culturally rooted and highly effective approaches to common challenges. This makes the probability of successful implementation of this declaration all the more likely.

Minister of State in charge of Social Affairs Assumpta Ingabire received Mark Waddington, Chief Executive of Hope and Homes for Children, alongside Innocent Habimfura, Hope and Homes for Children Rwanda's Director, for a meeting in advance of the declaration at this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali.

The Kigali Declaration states that:

“Children in most marginalised and vulnerable situations have been disproportionally affected by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including … children in institutions.

Building on the CHOGM 2018 Commonwealth Youth Forum Declaration, requesting us to “renew our commitment to ‘Leave No One Behind,’” recognising that millions of children and young people still live in care institutions, including many children and young people with disabilities;

Recognising the potential negative effects of institutionalisation on children’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being and the collective role of care and protection reform, donors, and governments in tackling this issue through the provision of quality, integrated, community-based mental health and psycho-social support

We, as Commonwealth Heads of Government, commit to:

Positioning the Commonwealth as a leading advocate on child care and protection reform by implementing the UN Resolution on Children Without Parental Care;

Recognising the importance of providing a range of quality alternative care options, including…family and community-based care and, where relevant, redirecting resources to family and community-based care services, with adequate training and support for caregivers and robust screening and oversight mechanisms, and progressively replacing institutionalisation accordingly, we undertake to take appropriate measures to:

  1. Strengthen health systems for future pandemics and ensure adequate response to the needs of all children and young people;
  2. Expand social protection coverage to reduce poverty and promote human capital for all children and young people, and strengthen social protection systems to better respond to future shocks;
  3. Tackle the underlying causes that lead to children requiring care and protection;
  4. Tackle the underlying causes of the separation of children from their families and communities, including by progressively replacing institutionalisation with quality alternative care across the Commonwealth;
  5. Put in place the necessary frameworks and resources to ensure sustainable and effective child protection and safeguarding systems for care and protection of all children, including the elimination of child labour in all its forms, forced labour, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
  6. Implement a policy of zero tolerance for violence, harassment, abuse, stigma, or discrimination, paying particular attention to the most marginalised and excluded children and those in a situation of vulnerability.
  7. Encourage development agencies by 2025 to:
  • Support staff, as well as applicants and recipients of aid, development assistance and investment, to prioritise quality care arrangements at the community level, over institutionalisation, including for children with disabilities;
  • Support projects which take a holistic and inclusive approach to child protection systems development and family strengthening;
  • Provide clear information on how funding supports families and family-based systems of care.
  • Amplify and support the voices of children and their families, including the under- represented voices of girls, children with disabilities and other marginalised groups, and support the meaningful participation in society of children, young people, their families and their representative groups;
  • Support inclusive, accessible, quality community services, including all aspects of education, health and social services, that meet the diverse requirements of children and their families, and support the choice, dignity, autonomy and full participation of all children and their families in society, including the most marginalised
  1. Recognise the role of evidence-based research and data disaggregation in providing a clear picture of the challenges facing child protection across the Commonwealth
  2. Recognise that well-meaning support for institutions through international aid, donations, orphanage volunteering, mission trips or tourist visits, can in some cases lead to unnecessary family-child separation and undermine care reform efforts;
  3. Undertake to improve data collection, information management and reporting systems related to children without parental care in all settings and situations to close existing data gaps and develop global and national baselines.

Read the communiqué, leaders statement and all declarations here

Hope and Homes for Children CEO, Mark Waddington CBE, says:

“There are not many moments when we have the opportunity to tilt the axis of the human planet in the favour children. But that has just happened. Millions of children, who have mums and dads, are denied the love and protection of a family across the Commonwealth because they are unnecessarily incarcerated in orphanages. Today that ends.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting has unanimously agreed a declaration which commits the Commonwealth to liberating children from harmful orphanages and to investment in families and community capabilities to provide the love and protection all children have a right to. The Starlight Declaration.

Declarations are of course just pieces of paper. But this is different. The Rwandan Government, which will lead the Commonwealth for the next two years, is already taking action to convene like-minded countries to commit to action. They are showing the way by closing every, last orphanage.

And here’s a great thing: they will not leave a single child behind. So all those children with disabilities, who are so often overlooked, are being placed back with their families or in alternative forms of family care. Each one with the support they need to be cared for like any other child. Because anything less would be wrong.

Celebrate life and love today more than you might otherwise have.”