When most people think of orphaned child, they think of a child whose parents have died, leaving them alone and helpless in the world. But as we’ve learned in our numerous visits to orphanages in over 10 countries, meeting hundreds of children and learning their stories, this is far from the truth. Based on our research, about 90% of children living in orphanages have at least one if not both living parents.
In the countries we work in, (including Kenya, India, Liberia, Honduras, and Mexico), the government social systems lack the infrastructure to support keeping families together. As an example, the U.S. has programs such as food stamps and subsidized housing for low income families, to help these families have a home and feed their children. Lack of food and housing are two of the biggest reasons cited by parents for dropping their children off at an orphanage – they simply don’t have the resources to care for them, and rather than see them suffer, they know that an orphanage will at least provide the basics: food, clothing, a roof over their head, and an education. While we agree that these are the minimal basics that are the very least every child should have, at the end of the day, there is no better place for a child to be than with his or her family.
The main causal factor for children to be living apart from their families is extreme poverty, a poverty that is often deeply rooted in the history, culture, and governments of the countries we work in. Of course, there are other factors as well, such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and those rare cases where both parents have actually passed away. Here are some of their stories, which we’ll be expanding on over the course of several posts:
This is Julio. He was found living in the streets, along with his older sister. Julio recently visited his mom, who is in no mental state to care for him - but he is always excited to see her.
This is Priya. She was brought to the orphanage after her father divorced her mother, leaving the mother with no income and with the stigma of being a divorcee. Furthermore, the father’s new wife did not want Priya to be a part of the family, and since the mother was left with no means of support, in a rural area where job opportunities are scarce for women, Priya’s mother had not choice but to place her in an orphanage.
This is Paul. He was found in the gutter of the Soweto Slum in Kenya, abandoned by a mother who no doubt feared the stigma of being unwed and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
Eliminating poverty and empowering women are two ways we can stop the prevalence of children living in orphanages, and keep them with their families. Until then, our mission at Kitechild is to ensure that these vulnerable children are given the best care possible, when an orphanage is often their only choice.