Orphanage Voluntourism and the United Nations

As we have written before, Cosmic Volunteers does not send volunteers to orphanages any longer.

The studies about the harms of orphanage tourism are piling up year after year and are just too obvious to ignore any longer.

However, orphanage tourism continues to exist, and in a big way.

There is some good news though:

The child advocacy organization Stahili continues to fight on behalf of children who are exploited around the world.

Yesterday Stahili posted an article asking, “Why is orphanage tourism not in the UNWTO draft convention on tourism ethics?”.

As Stahili  writes, “…public awareness of the harms of orphanage tourism, its growth as an industry and its links with child trafficking, has risen sharply in recent years.

They cite current developments in Australia, where orphanage tourism could soon be outlawed as part of a Modern Slavery Act.

Stahili also notes a recent report by Lumos on Haiti that highlighted the negative impact of orphanage tourism in sustaining an orphanage “business” which separates children from their families.

We will continue following the issue of orphanage voluntourism, including organizations like Stahili who are working hard to end the practice.

Who is Stahili

Stahili is a movement of practitioners, experts, individual supporters, teachers and students from around the world who want to make the world a better place for children.

They work in education, child protection and development, and children’s rights advocacy. They help children in institutional care – such as orphanages – regain their right to family and provide access to high quality education. They are members of the Alternative Care Alliance Kenya.

Orphanages no place for infants, Cambodian government says

The Ministry of Social Affairs in Cambodia has just announced that children under the age of three will no longer be accommodated in residential care centres by the end of next year.

Cambodia also announced that the building of new orphanages will be banned.

That last announcement is especially hopeful.

But it’s not the first time a country has made such a promise but did not keep it:

In 2004 Romania government officials promised that by 2007 all its orphanages (which then housed about 35,000 children) would be closed down. But in 2010 there were still over 19,000 at orphanages in Romania.

We at Cosmic Volunteers no longer send volunteers to orphanages.


Over the years, many international organizations including UNICEF have uncovered the often horrible treatment of children in orphanages. Also they estimate that 80 to 90 percent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent.

The good news:

There are many organizations and individuals who are helping to reunite children with their biological families. And for true orphans, to find caring families who will adopt them.

One such organization is Hope and Homes for Children in the UK.

Hope and Homes for Children works alongside governments and civil society organisations in over 30 countries to dismantle orphanage-based care systems.

As Halya Postliuk, their Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, writes [emphasis mine]:

“[In Ukraine] orphans make up only 9% of all the children confined to orphanages…The remaining children are placed in institutions at their parents’ requests as a result of poverty…because this is the only way they can access education, health and rehabilitation services for their children. Our research also demonstrated that not a single family of a child placed in an institution because of poor living conditions received adequate social support.”

Another NGO, called Next Generation Nepal (NGN), works alongside the Nepali government to rescue children from abusive orphanages and bring them to a transit home. The transit homes provide shelter, protection, health care and education, until the team at Next Generation Nepal can find the child’s parents and reunite them with their family.

Founded in 2006 by Conor Grennan, NGN has linked hundreds of trafficked children in its care to their home communities in Nepal through a careful process of reconnection and reunification.

Conor wrote a best-selling book Little Princes that describes his work with NGN.

As always, we at Cosmic Volunteers will continue monitoring important aspects of voluntourism for you, especially as it relates to the people we try to help through our volunteer programs abroad.