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'Addicted to Orphans': The Orphan Industrial Complex and Donor Influence in Uganda's Child Protection System

Keynote address, Children, Young People and Development Symposium, National University of Ireland, Galway, 22 August 2014

Kristen Cheney

on 4 January 2016

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Transcript of 'Addicted to Orphans': The Orphan Industrial Complex and Donor Influence in Uganda's Child Protection System

Kristen E. Cheney, PhD.
Children & Youth Studies
Social Policy for Development
International Institute of Social Studies
The Hague, Netherlands

The Orphan Industrial Complex and
Donor Influence in Uganda's Child Protection System

UNICEF : orphan --> OVC --> 'Orphan Crisis' --> 'Orphan Rescue' --> 'Orphan Addiction'
‘The Rescuers’: Cogs in the Wheel of Child Protection
‘Addicted to Orphans’
Late 2000s
Late 1990s
‘…a child under 18 years of age whose mother, father, or both parents have died…’
Orphans and Vulnerable Children
This acronym was developed to encompass children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS even before their parents had died.

CABA - children affected by AIDS - also came into use around the same time.
'Orphan Crisis'
Expanded definitions inflated numbers
Predictions of an imminent ‘orphan crisis’ that threatened to overwhelm extended-family systems (though many scholars challenged this)
Elicits a variety of charitable and humanitarian responses from private and public donors
'Orphan Rescue'
Not new:
same verbage since World War I (e.g., Save the Children)
intercountry adoption (ICA) was founded on child rescue narratives
'Biblical commands' to assist orphans ignore or vilify mothers (Ireland)
focus on Africa for mission trips etc.
Evangelical movement's cooptation of UNICEF's orphan numbers to argue for establishment of orphanages and ICA
ICA community's focus turns to Africa
'Orphan Addiction'
Prezi available at http://bit.ly/1iG9kB5
Uganda: the Latest Destination for Orphan Addicts
Orphan-addicted donors are thus encouraging the proliferation of orphanages, orphan tourism, and international adoption
takes the child out of ccmmunity context
skews funding toward 'orphans' at the expense of other vulnerable children
fails to address root causes of orphanhood and abandonment
donors fail to recognize their own roles in institutionalization, creating 'orphans' where they did not exist
contributes to developmental delays, problems with attachment
disrupts local systems of community-based care and efforts to promote alternative care
obstructs the development of effective child protection measures
facilitates child trafficking and fosters growth of organized crime around ICA
The Orphan Industrial Complex
Fundraising for 'everything orphan',
from missions to adoptions
Establishing orphanages
Orphan tourism
the gospel
International adoption
'When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.'
— George Bernard Shaw
147 Million Orphans volunteers on a 'serving trip' to Haiti to feed "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40)
children in institutional care
children in
children in institutional care
1.3 million 'orphans'
16% of children
2.85 million 'orphans'
14% of children
119% increase in orphan numbers (but 2% reduction in percent of population), vs.
1624% increase in institutionalized children
almost all of them cared for by extended family and community
1.9 million 'orphans'
12.3% of children
90% of them cared for by extended family and community (JLICA 2009)
Sources: Uganda Bureau of Statistics
Alternative Care Uganda
(Williamson and Greenberg 2010)
*80% have living, locatable relatives
child care institutions
child care institutions
Receptive to Christian evangelical projects
Highlighted by campaigns like Invisible Children's Kony 2012
Discovery of the legal guardianship loophole for ICA
Ethiopian ICAs in decline, DRC ICAs suspended -- and consequently seeing many of the same abuses, corruption

"Then what SHOULD we do??"
Support efforts to keep children in their families
Build families'/communities' capacity to care for orphans, through training of caregivers & social workers
Get trained before working with children in difficult circumstances
Advocate that your government direct development aid toward family preservation (and cancel debt)
Talk to your friends about these Do's and Don'ts; change the discourse of orphan rescue/addiction
Assume that the orphan numbers cited are accurate or transparent
Accept poverty or single motherhood as legitimate reasons for removing children from families (Ireland, US)
Support the establishment of child care institutions in developing countries
Be 'orphan tourists'; children are not tourist attractions!
Some resources:
Alternative Care Uganda: http://www.alternative-care-uganda.org/
ChildSafe : http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/
Hands to Hearts: http://handstohearts.org/
Full transcript