There has been a lot of changes in people’s attitudes to all manner of things over the last 20 years. We see this everyday in relation to family structures, the protection of our ecosystems and standards of behavior amongst other things.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the general consensus that rather than incarcerating children into institutions of care (orphanages), it is preferable for children to be maintained within the family or extended family units. This may require additional family support of various kinds.
This debate is now being championed in the travel industry. And they often cite the example of governments signing covenants which commit them to the abolishment of institutional care.
Make no mistake, the incarceration of abandoned or orphaned children is to be avoided at all costs. But if you listen to many of these self appointed change agents, its a cut and dried case. The naivety can be staggering.
In Kenya there is a sobering reality that needs to be considered. For over 20 years now, One Horizon has had significant exposure to institutions for abandoned children and experience with how Kenyan agencies approach its work. It’s worth noting that in those institutions we have observed, 85% of the children had an extended family. But in the nearly all those cases, the extended family didn’t want an extra mouth to feed because of their grinding poverty. Children are orphaned not because they have no living relative, but because of their family’s poverty. And in instances where the child went home to an extended family, the overwhelming majority had to be ‘rescued’ within weeks from the physical, emotional and sexual abuse being handed to them each day. Poverty drives obscene behavior. It’s a common problem, not an isolated instance.
So while promoting views from abroad are aimed at leveraging governments, it can fundamentally dilute the development of effective solutions to a complex problem. It smacks of a new colonialism that fails to understand the total cultural complexities of life in other societies. And where solutions often promulgated by these new change agents are predicated on incorrect assumptions and falsehoods.