Minister moves to block child shopping
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the government wants to cut off support to overseas orphanages.
UNICEF and other child rights groups have consistently called on western governments to reduce their financial support for orphanages in developing nations, which often house children who still have living parents but are lured with the promise of education and a better life.
Some are run as businesses for the profit of their owners, sustained by “orphanage tourism” from well-intentioned westerners.
Australian churches, travel agencies, universities and schools are among the top financial supporters of orphanages in south-east Asian countries.
Senator Birmingham has vowed to reduce the involvement of Australian schools and universities in orphanage tourism.
“It disgusts me that well-meaning students seeking to help vulnerable children overseas might be unwittingly signed up for scam volunteer programs and orphanage tourism that risks further child exploitation,” he said.
“My colleague [the West Australian senator] Linda Reynolds has been a passionate advocate for tackling this issue, getting it onto the national agenda and bringing it to my attention, alongside various groups in the aid and volunteering space.”
Kate van Doore, a law and human trafficking expert at Griffith University, welcomed the announcement.
“We are advocating for a transitional process to be considered. Right now, schools and universities that are funding or supporting orphanages should be asking questions about whether the orphanage they are supporting has a reintegration program,” van Doore told Guardian Australia.
“Our key message is that no child should be spending their childhood in an orphanage,” she said.
“Schools and universities should focus their support on initiatives where children can grow up in their families and communities.”
Officials in the education, foreign affairs and social services departments have been asked to develop policies to combat orphanage tourism, which Senator Birmingham will then take to the states and territories through the Council of Australian Governments education council.