Thursday, July 17, 2014

Messy Miseries in Kampala Orphanages

Around the world, human traffickers exploit orphans in horrendous ways. These innocent children (and their families) need protection. In this guest post, my former neighbor Paul Brethen, founder and director of Net for Hope in Kampala, Uganda, describes this abuse and tells how Christians can insure that they are helping, not hurting, these children.

Early one morning a board member from Net for Hope Foundation came to me and said that a former volunteer at one of our projects in the urban slums was arrested for sexually abusing the children in his orphanage. I knew this young man who used to teach children at our school how to dance. He was good even to the point of winning competitions and getting a lot of public recognition. The community praised him for what appeared to be a wonderful thing.

He left the school and started his own organization and opened an orphanage. He took vulnerable children from the slums to exploit them for his own personal gain. He convinced the parents of 50 children to let them live in his orphanage saying they would be cared for, receive an education, and a better life then in the slums of Katanga. Most poverty stricken-families see this as a welcome opportunity to give their child a chance. Only it was a lie that led to misery and greater harm than good. Often these children are exploited and abused to raise funds for the unscrupulous to get rich on.

This kind of deception works. People have sympathy for poor orphaned children whose parents have died and left homeless to survive on the streets. Sponsoring such children bodes well with donors who feel compelled to provide support. But such sponsorships can be a big scam.

There are three things you should know about sponsoring children in orphanages. First, check to see if the organization is registered and certified by the local government. In Kampala the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development is now requiring that all orphanages meet specific standards of care and transparency. They are routinely checked and if not up to standards are shut down. If an orphanage is not registered, avoid it.

Secondly, request the year-end record of accounts regarding distribution of funds and expenses from the organization. Many illegitimate organizations don't keep financial records. If they don't have them, don't donate. The funds may be paying for personal cars, land, furniture, frivolous things that have nothing to do with helping children. Often these children are barely kept alive with one simple meal a day, little clothing, no education or medical care even when donors are providing the money for them.

Lastly, and this is a bit more tricky, but perhaps it's also the most important--unannounced onsite visits. Someone independent of the organization needs to show up and check the conditions of the orphanage and the well-being of the children. Unanticipated visits can reveal a lot. The young man abusing the children would arrange scheduled site visits to avoid donors from knowing about each other, prep the kids to look well kept and clean up the place. Because he knew when people were coming, he could make sure the children were ready. To ensure their cooperation, he terrorized the children by threatening to kill them if they told the truth about what was really going on. Even more he'd beat a child mercilessly in front of all of them to show how serious he was about carrying out his threats.

During the unscheduled visit, requesting and receiving the background records of the children will verify that they are orphans. Still that can be misleading. The young man mentioned above falsified all the records to make it appear that the children had no parents. In Uganda, 85 percent of the children have at least one parent. This was the case for all 50 of these kids. Those who didn't have immediate family to care for them, had extended family willing to take them in.

The good news is that the exploitation of children in orphanages is becoming more public. Policies are being considered and restriction of international adoptions have reduced the number of scams in developing countries. Remember money has been the motivation to exploit and abuse the innocent, so become a wise giver and don't be fooled with flashy websites, sympathetic pictures, and cries for help. By doing your homework, you'll be giving in ways that make a genuine difference.

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