NICHOLASVILLE, Kentucky — Around 8 million children live in orphanages, but 80% of them are not orphans. Approximately 25,000 children in Haiti live in orphanages. Poverty, hope for a better life or a disability are among the reasons why people send their children to orphanages. However, orphanages can do more harm to a child than good, especially when they are not classified as true orphans.
Reasons Parents Send Children to an Orphanage
An orphan is a child whose parents have died. Of the Haitian children living in orphanages, many have at least one living parent, according to Lumos. Many times, Haitian parents cannot afford to raise some or all their children. They send their children to an orphanage in hopes of giving them a better life.
Orphanages can provide these poverty orphans with education, health care and overall better services for them to grow and learn. However, according to Lumos, orphanages do not provide the poverty children with individual attention.
The Downsides to an Orphanage
After the 2010 earthquake, the number of children sent to orphanages increased exponentially. About 760 institutions operate in Haiti with less than 15% of them registered with the Haitian government. Most of the orphanages in Haiti are private and receive funds from foreigners.
Although sending a child to an orphanage may seem like the easy option to give their child a better life, institutionalization prevents poverty orphans from developing physically, socially and psychologically, according to a Lumos report. Children who grew up in an orphanage face developmental challenges that could affect them in the future.
“The reality is that,” said a Lumos report “in spite of best intentions, institutional care cannot meet the needs of children, who do not flourish outside families.”
Lumos is an international charity to keep children out of orphanages. They began operating in Haiti in 2015 where they managed to shut down 13 institutions and sent 242 children back to their families, according to Lumos.
Even though they are insufficient, records of poverty orphans show that they would be less successful in adulthood. Poverty orphans are “10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution as adults and 40 times more likely to have a criminal record,” Lumos report stated. Additionally, the suicide rate is 500 times higher.
The Potter’s Family is a nonprofit organization that operates in the Northwest area of Haiti. The Potter’s Family gives formula and assistance to babies whose mothers died. The organization admitted its first baby in 2019 and since then, it has helped more than 23 families to stay together and to keep their children out of orphanages.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, media director of The Potter’s Family, Liam Dobbie says, “Despite the best intentions of any orphanage, they are a magnet with abuse. Many of the children come out of an orphanage very damaged and completely unprepared for the real world; they are set up to fail.”
Babies in Orphanages
In particular, babies and infants do not develop properly if their parents send them to an orphanage. Babies need personal, one-on-one interaction with their parents, according to Lumos report. Orphanages cannot provide that individual attention. As they grow, babies’ brains do not develop and suffer severe physical and mental setbacks.
For poverty orphans, oftentimes, their mothers have died or cannot feed them. Babies depend on breastmilk and if their mother cannot provide that milk or do not have the resources for alternatives, there are few options for the baby. The family can either watch as their baby slowly starves from lack of nourishment or they can send the baby to an orphanage.
The founder and executive director of The Potter’s Family Tore Dobbie explained, “I had several encounters with sobbing fathers handing me their newborns and begging me to put them in an orphanage. When I would talk to the fathers about why they were asking for that, the answer always came back to lack of resources.”
Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation
Orphans in Haiti are at a higher risk of facing abuse and exploitation in the human trafficking industry. On the Global Slavery Index, Haiti ranks eighth. About 300,000 children in Haiti are trafficked, which is about one in 15 children.
Additionally, many orphans, true orphans and poverty orphans alike are seen as tourist attractions to get more donors for the orphanage. In one instance, an orphanage in Haiti was intentionally malnourishing the children to receive more donation money. The children often suffered from disease due to the neglect of the orphanage.
Empowering Families to Stay Together
The Potter’s Family shared Alexindo’s story. Alexindo’s mother gave birth to twins, but she was not mentally fit to care for newborns. The mother dropped Alexindo’s sister and she died. He went to live with his aunt. After about a month, baby Alexindo became sick. He needed a blood transfusion, so his aunt gave him some of her blood. Alexindo’s aunt needed a way to feed Alexindo and help him while he was sick. One of her cousins recommended taking him to The Potter’s Family. She searched for Paul, the Haitian Director of The Potter’s Family.
Without the help of The Potter’s Family, Alexindo’s aunt would have few options. She could not watch Alexindo suffer from illness and decided to help him in any way she could. The Potter’s Family provided assistance to prevent Alexindo from becoming one of the many victims of poverty orphans in Haiti. He can grow up with his family and experience the love his family can give him.
Although many of Haiti’s orphans are poverty orphans, organizations like Lumos Haiti and The Potter’s Family are working to keep children out of orphanages.
– Chris Karenbauer