The Committee heard serious concerns about a specific type of child exploitation known as ‘orphanage trafficking’ or ‘paper orphaning’ involving children in overseas residential institutions (or ‘orphanages’) particularly in developing countries. These institutions have been established to take advantage of ‘voluntourists’ seeking to support ‘orphans’ but do little due diligence on the institution.
This chapter examines the concerns about these practices and suggests measures to combat them.
Paper orphaning and orphanage trafficking
Problems with orphanage tourism and for-profit orphanages have been widely reported around the world for many years. Despite this, until recently, little global action has occurred to stop this insidious form of child exploitation. A number of Australian organisations have been working to raise awareness of this issue. Australian NGOs, which are working together as the ReThink Orphanages coalition, made submissions raising their concerns about the practice of ‘paper orphaning’ or ‘orphanage trafficking’ where children are ‘constructed on paper through documentation as orphans’.
ReThink Orphanages member Ms Kathryn van Doore, an academic and global authority on orphanage trafficking, defines ‘paper orphaning’, as:
… the active recruitment of children into orphanages or residential care institutions in developing nations for the purpose of ongoing exploitation, particularly through orphanage tourism.
The Committee heard that global action on addressing orphanage trafficking is increasing but remains uncoordinated. The Committee notes that in 2017 the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP report) recognised orphanage trafficking for the first time in its trafficking profile for Nepal.
The Committee heard consistent evidence that children subject to orphanage trafficking are removed from their families and placed in residential institutions to attract funding and donations from foreign tourists. In many cases, parents are wilfully deceived by recruiters who visit poorer rural communities on behalf of orphanage directors to place their children in institutions on the promise of an education and a better life.
Once in these institutions, children are often held in slave-like conditions and/or subject to exploitation and abuse in order to attract funding and donations. ReThink Orphanages observed:
Children in orphanages are often kept in slavery like conditions, fully owned by orphanage directors and exploited for profit through forced ‘cultural’ performances for tourists, forced begging, and forced interaction and play with visitors. Children are often kept in poor health, poor conditions and are malnourished in order to elicit more support in the form of donations and gifts.
Lumos, a UK-based charity established by J.K. Rowling that is working globally to replace institutions for children with community-based forms of care, submitted that these orphanages are ‘central participants in a web of modern slavery and trafficking of children’. Lumos describes orphanages as facilitating a ‘vicious circle’ where children are:
recruited or trafficked into orphanages;
made vulnerable to being trafficked out of orphanages into other forms of exploitation; and
placed back in orphanages, despite being victims of exploitation, due to a lack of alternative care options.
The Committee heard a number of cases of exploitation of children placed in or trafficked into orphanages. The Committee was particularly moved to hear personal accounts such as that of Ms Sinet Chan who was a victim of exploitation at an orphanage in Cambodia. Ms Chan’s experience highlights the devastating impact of orphanage trafficking on children around the world. Box 8.1 outlines Ms Chan’s experience.
Box 8.1: Orphanage trafficking – Ms Sinet Chan
Ms Sinet Chan was sent to live at an orphanage in Cambodia when she was nine years old, together with her brothers and sisters, following the death of her parents. Ms Chan told the Committee that, while she stayed in the orphanage, she was forced to ‘perform’ for foreign tourists:
The orphanage got its funding from the tourists and, when the tourists came, we needed to perform for them to make them happy, like singing a song, playing games with them and learning English and Japanese. Sometimes they would buy us some clothes or food, but we were not allowed to keep them. The director of the orphanage would take them back to the market and sell everything ... We worked so hard to generate income for the orphanage. It was only later that I realised I was being exploited and used like a slave.
At the orphanage, Ms Chan was subjected to horrific physical and sexual abuse by the orphanage director. In addition to performing for tourists, the director forced her to work on his rice fields with the other children. Ms Chan told the Committee of the squalid conditions the children were kept in at the orphanage:
We never had enough food to eat. Sometimes the man would give us some leftover food, but often we would catch mice to eat. We also did not have clean water to drink. When we were sick, there was no medication. My sister had HIV and got no treatment.
Ms Chan told the Committee that the volunteers at the orphanages were not aware that they were contributing to exploitation:
The volunteers at the orphanage never noticed anything, but they noticed us children looking poor, so they would donate. I used to like it when the volunteers came to the orphanage; they would play with us and sometimes buy us some food. But it was even more terrible when they left; every time it would feel like we were being abandoned. I met many volunteers when I was at the orphanage. I know that they are good people and I know that they want to help, but what they do not know is that their actions are hurting children. The more tourists come, the more orphanages are set up and the more children will be separated from their families.
Ms Chan noted that even people in Cambodia were not aware of the exploitation and many poor families thought that placing their children in orphanages would give them better opportunities:
Even Cambodians do not know the whole truth. Many poor parents believe that sending their children to the orphanage means a good future awaits them. They believe that their children will be taken care of and will have a good education. They have no idea what really happens inside.
Global prevalence of orphanage trafficking
UNICEF estimates that there are up to 8 million children living in residential institutions around the world. A 2009 report by Save the Children highlighted that at least four out of five children (at least 80%) are not in fact ‘orphans’ and have one or both parents alive. The main reasons these children are placed into institutions include poverty and social exclusion.
Submitters suggested that orphanage trafficking is prevalent in privately funded orphanages in countries with insufficient capacity to oversee and regulate private services, where orphanages are established to meet ‘donor demand’, rather than the needs of children. The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) and Australian Christian Churches International Relief (ACCIR) submitted:
… decisions pertaining to the development of new privately funded service[s] are largely determined by the interests of the overseas donors. As such services often emerge to meet ‘donor demand’ rather than in response to local needs or in line with government agendas. This is frequently the case with the ongoing proliferation of institutional care in low and middle income countries, despite a documented reduction in numbers of children legitimately requiring such services in some countries.
Evidence from submitters, particularly from Lumos, highlighted that the practice of orphanage trafficking is found across the developing world, including in Cambodia, Nepal, Uganda and Haiti.
The Committee heard that some NGOs have undertaken detailed country-based studies that have revealed the extent of orphanage exploitation. Box 8.2 outlines a recent study by Lumos on the prevalence of orphanage exploitation in Haiti.
Box 8.2: Orphanage trafficking in Haiti
In its 2016 study, Lumos estimated that 32,000 children in Haiti were living in orphanages, of which over 80% were not orphans. Only 15% per cent of orphanages were registered with the government, with the majority operating outside the law.
The study suggested at least $100 million is sent by well-meaning donors to orphanages in Haiti every year, driving the establishment of orphanages ‘purely for profit’. The study found a consistent pattern of behaviour among orphanages trafficking children, including:
Orphanage ‘directors’ pay ‘child-finders’ to recruit children for the orphanage. In some instances, families are paid to give their children away. In others they are deceived into believing their children will receive an education and have a better life. The orphanage uses the children to persuade donors to give them money. The sums received are far in excess of the money spent on looking after children.
In many cases, children are neglected and abused in the orphanage. There is witness evidence of children disappearing or dying without record. Criminal investigations and prosecutions of such cases are rare.
Submitters highlighted the need for up-to-date reliable data on the number of children in institutions around the world. Ms Leigh Mathews, Coordinator of ReThink Orphanages told the Committee:
We do not truly know how many children are in institutions globally. A lot of the more recent figures that have come out are based on government figures, which are the official government census data. We know that there are thousands and thousands of children that are not counted in those. If you do not know the scale of the problem then you cannot account for the intervention or the response ... Having real data on the number of children in institutional care globally is one of the biggest goals for the sector...
The Australia Cambodia Foundation (ACF), a not-for-profit organisation providing support to children in Cambodia, including residential care for a small number of special needs children, noted that research on the prevalence of orphanage trafficking would be a ‘valuable addition to the knowledge and understanding of the nature and extent of this practice. ACF submitted:
Our experience is inconsistent with the anecdotal claims that children are being recruited into orphanages in residential care institutions for the purposes of seeking foreign aid from governments and NGOs. We also have no direct evidence of orphanages being established to exploit children for commercial gain. However, we acknowledge that credible anecdotal evidence exists that such exploitative practices do occur.
Another data issue highlighted by Lumos is that children living in institutions, or otherwise separated from their families, are not included in data gathered by countries to monitor progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Ms Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos told the Committee:
If you don’t count children, it's very easy for them to disappear. Of course, then you don’t know the sorts of problems that children are suffering and, therefore, you cannot get your national programming right … investment in developing those systems and mechanisms for counting children is a huge part of the solution, if you like, to addressing trafficking of children—not just trafficking into orphanages but all forms of trafficking.
Representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) noted that the Australian Government shares concerns about the growing trend of orphanage trafficking:
… both in Australia and internationally, we all share the concern that there is evidence clearly that there is a growing trend around the use of orphanages for a range of reasons but particularly at times for profiteering, and that has impacts on children and at times children trafficking.
Orphanage tourism and donations
The Committee heard that the key drivers for orphanage trafficking are foreign donations and ‘orphanage tourism’ or ‘voluntourism’, where Western tourists travel overseas to volunteer in residential institutions.
Lumos noted that, as with other forms of modern slavery, money is the key driving factor behind trafficking, exploitation and institutionalisation. Lumos suggested that, based on evidence in Haiti, ‘we'd likely find billions of dollars going into orphanages’ around the world.
ReThink Orphanages estimates that the ‘voluntourism’ industry has grown in recent years to an estimated value of US$2.6 billion, involving 1.6 million people each year. Submitters and witnesses suggested that the growth of voluntourism has led to an increase in the number orphanages around the world. Ms Tara Winkler, founder of the Cambodian Children’s Trust, told the Committee:
The number of orphanages across the developing world has boomed in recent years. This increase in orphanages is not being caused by an increase in poverty or increasing numbers of children being orphaned ... This global orphanage crisis is being fuelled by the donations flooding into orphanages from foreign tourists, volunteers and owners.
Orphanage tourism and donations from Australia
ReThink Orphanages suggested that Australians are ‘directly contributing to, and profiting from the orphanage voluntourism industry’ through the:
travel sector (voluntourism and gap year programs and trips);
private sector (corporate donations);
philanthropic sector (donations); and
education sector (school and university trips and donations).
A 2016 report by ReThink Orphanages mapping Australia’s support for the institutionalisation of children overseas found that approximately 75% of Australian charities work overseas with children and almost 10% are involved with, or support, residential care institutions. The study also highlighted that 57.5% of Australian universities advertise orphanage placements for students and 14% of secondary schools visit, volunteer at or fundraise for overseas orphanages.
Submitters acknowledged that there is no way of definitively quantifying the extent to which Australian volunteers and donors may be contributing to orphanage exploitation. Ms Rebecca Nhep, Joint CEO of Australian Christian Churches International (ACC International), suggested that while ‘we have no current mechanism to quantify the scope of Australia's involvement across all sectors’, Australia ‘is a key country that is driving the demand side of this orphanage industry’.
ReThink Orphanages recounted personal experiences of their members who had unwittingly participated in orphanage exploitation. Ms Tara Winkler, Managing Director of the Cambodian Children’s Trust, told the Committee how she fundraised to support an orphanage in Cambodia and was shocked to discover:
… this orphanage I had been supporting was terribly corrupt. The director had been embezzling every cent donated to the orphanage and, in my absence, the children were suffering such gross neglect that they were forced to catch mice to feed themselves. I also found out later that the director had been physically and sexually abusing the children.
Similarly Ms Andrea Nave, who founded Forget Me Not Australia with Ms Kathryn van Doore, told the Committee how they supported an orphanage in Nepal and discovered most of the children were not orphans:
We established our charity as a result of a young travelling Australian volunteer wanting to help children. He unwittingly became part of the orphanage business model where children are trafficked into a system and somehow become modern-day slaves, used as a commodity by operators for financial gain through sponsorships, donations and the unending revolving door of visiting tourists looking to give back while they are on their travels, treating children as a tourist attraction.
Submitters suggested that Australia’s obligations to protect children under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), should:
… extend to protecting children whose rights are being violated in the context of overseas residential care institutions where these human rights breaches (and trafficking acts) are being ‘aided or assisted’ by Australian registered charities, and/or for the purpose of accessing Australian foreign aid funding or for voluntourism.
The Committee is deeply concerned by reports highlighting the prevalence of the practice of orphanage trafficking and the detrimental effect it has on children around the world.
The Committee was particularly moved by evidence from victims like Ms Sinet Chan, whose experience regrettably represents those children around the world who are taken from their families and exploited in institutions, and who often never see their families again.
The Committee recognises that there is a lack of data on both the prevalence of orphanage trafficking around the world and the potential contribution Australians may be making to perpetuate these exploitative practices.
The Committee considers that the Australian Government should support the collection of accurate data on these issues to inform any future action to combat these crimes.
To further improve data collection, the Committee also considers that the Australian Government should work with its international counterparts to ensure that children living in institutions are included in data gathered to monitor progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Committee considers that Alliance 8.7, which aims to achieve SDG 8.7 and eradicate modern slavery and child labour, may be the most effective forum to address this issue.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government fund and/or support research into the prevalence of orphanage trafficking and exploitation in overseas residential institutions around the world, including the contribution that Australian aid and/or donations inadvertently make to perpetuating these practices.
The Committee further recommends that the Australian Government work with its international partners in Alliance 8.7 to ensure that children living in overseas residential institutions are included in data gathered to monitor progress against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Measures to address orphanage trafficking
Submitters suggested a range of measures to combat orphanage trafficking in Australia and around the world. These suggestions fall broadly into awareness raising and regulatory measures.
These proposed measures are outlined below.
Submitters emphasised the importance of raising awareness about orphanage trafficking, as well as the risks of orphanage tourism and donations in contributing to these practices. Ms Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, told the Committee:
… where it has to start is awareness raising. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but it's really important because people do not necessarily understand they are doing the wrong thing. We need good communication strategies from families and children right the way up to politicians.
Submitters recognised that the impulse to donate and volunteer, particularly among young Australians, comes from a well-meaning intention to help those in need. Submitters considered that raising awareness about the issue of orphanage trafficking was one of the most effective ways to minimise the risks of Australian donations and volunteers contributing to it. Ms Winkler told the Committee that raising awareness is ‘key to solving this problem’:
Most people who are engaging in orphanage tourism or donating to orphanages are doing so with the very best of intentions wanting to help. So the thought that they might be causing harm is horrifying. Once you join the dots for people and they are aware, that behaviour change is immediate.
Specific measures to raise awareness of orphanage trafficking are outlined below.
Recognising orphanage trafficking as modern slavery
As noted in Chapter 3, submitters highlighted the importance of the Australian Government recognising orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery.
Submitters suggested that formal acknowledgement of orphanage trafficking, including its inclusion in a possible Modern Slavery Act, would ‘[e]levate and create a greater awareness of the issue of modern slavery and its implications for Australian business and organisations.’
These submitters advocated for the inclusion of orphanage exploitation in Australia’s legislative frameworks to address modern slavery. Ms van Doore, whose research argues that paper orphaning is a form of human trafficking under international law, told the Committee that the discussions around an Australian Modern Slavery Act are:
… a really unique opportunity that we have to recognise this as a form of trafficking, to recognise our participation in it as a form of trafficking and to look at the supply chains—it is just like in business—and see that how charities are funding and how tourism businesses are sending in volunteers is actually causing harm to these children and is causing modern slavery.
The Committee heard that Australia had an opportunity to take a lead role in acknowledging and addressing orphanage trafficking. Ms Karen Flanagan from Save the Children Australia told the Committee that Australia:
… can lead the way in this regard. We want to see much more accountability for organisations, whether they are government or non-government organisations, on this issue. That is why I think an act would help us. It would give us more leverage around the issue. We want to mostly educate Australians and well-meaning people. We would like to do that through our work, but legislation is usually a good message to people.
Ms Rebecca Nhep, Joint CEO of ACC International, told the Committee about the positive impact of having orphanage trafficking recognised for the first time in the US Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP report). In its trafficking profile for Nepal, the TIP report recognised:
Under false promises of education and work opportunities, Nepali parents give their children to brokers who instead take them to frequently unregistered children’s homes in urban locations, where they are forced to pretend to be orphans to garner donations from tourists and volunteers; some of the children are also forced to beg on the street.
The Committee notes that the Minister for Justice asked the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery to further consider the issue of sham orphanages at the senior officials’ meeting on 30 August 2017. The Committee notes there are no publicly available outcomes from this meeting.
The Committee agrees that orphanage trafficking should be recognised as a form of modern slavery in Australia’s legislative and policy frameworks, and under the proposed Modern Slavery Act. The Committee agrees that this formal recognition would assist in raising awareness of orphanage trafficking and assist in the implementation of policies to combat it.
The Committee welcomes the decision by the Minister for Justice to have asked the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery to further consider this issue and looks forward to the outcomes of these discussions.
The Committee notes that Recommendation 2 of this report asks the Australian Government to recognise orphanage trafficking as a form of modern slavery.
National awareness raising campaign
Submitters recommended that the Australian Government fund and support a national awareness raising campaign about orphanage trafficking, orphanage tourism and donations to orphanages. Such a national campaign should aim to educate donors and volunteers about the dangers of orphanage trafficking and redirect efforts towards more positive forms of aid, including family preservation and community-based care.
Ms Rachel Griffiths, patron of Hagar Australia, told the Committee of the importance of government leading education and awareness raising, highlighting the need for:
… strong statements from government particularly that will be heard by schools and community organisations, well-meaning families and individuals who really are very empathetic to the plight of children in our region—strong statements by government and clear mechanisms for us to find a better way to engage.
Ms Griffiths emphasised the need to harness the positive instincts, particularly of young people, and channel their energies to more constructive and sustainable forms of aid. Ms Griffiths told the Committee of the need for education and awareness to counter ‘the selfie moment’:
We need to engage a very beautiful generation who I think are very empathetic in how to donate their time and raise money out of their community and deliver it effectively. We need to counter the selfie moment. If running into the orphanage and being greeted by 100 children, making you feel good, is the selfie moment, it is going to take time for our educators to explain that, while it may feel good, it may not actually be good.
Submitters suggested this campaign should not just focus on potential volunteers and donors, but across a range of different sectors including:
educational institutions (schools and universities);
Ms Leigh Mathews, Coordinator of ReThink Orphanages emphasised the importance of ensuring that businesses and schools are particularly targeted:
It is not on school students to make ethical decisions about what kind of voluntourism program they are going to engage in. The onus is on the businesses, the schools, the entities that are offering a suite of products for young people to do good. They need to be accountable. They need to have the best interests of the communities that they are engaging in these projects with at heart. And that is the problem. We can talk about teaching our young people critical thinking, but it is not on them. It is on the systems around them.
Best practice examples
Submitters noted some international best practice models of awareness raising around the issue of orphanage trafficking. Box 8.3 outlines details of the ChildSafe Network’s ‘Children are not tourist attractions’ campaign in Cambodia.
Box 8.3: ChildSafe campaign – Cambodia
Friends International and the ChildSafe Movement, with the support of UNICEF, have launched a campaign to stop orphanage tourism in Cambodia. ChildSafe is based in Phnom Penh and aims to provide the highest standards of protection to children and young people by delivering practical measures and advice to individuals, businesses, governmental and non-governmental organisations.
As part of the campaign, ChildSafe have developed a series of awareness raising materials to advise tourists of the risks of orphanage tourism and discourage donations to institutions (see below).
Box 8.4 outlines another example of NGO collaboration raised by submitters, the Better Volunteering, Better Care initiative in the UK.
Box 8.4: Better Volunteering, Better Care initiative – UK
Better Volunteering, Better Care is an interagency initiative co‑facilitated by Better Care Network and Save the Children UK. The initiative was established in 2013 with funding from the Human Dignity Foundation and aims at discouraging volunteering in residential institutions and promoting ethical volunteering alternatives.
The initiative has developed a series of education materials for potential volunteers and universities, and provides a platform for information sharing on international volunteerism. Ms Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, noted the initiative had recently secured a grant to undertake a social media campaign.
In Australia, the Committee heard that ReThink Orphanages is leading work in the NGO sector to raise awareness of orphanage trafficking through research, public education and engagement, as well as advocating for policy change. The Committee heard that ReThink Orphanages is the ‘only network of this type in the world that is tackling this issue systemically from within a single sending country’.
The Committee notes that other Australian NGOs have also developed awareness materials around orphanage tourism, such as UNICEF Australia’s ‘4 travel tips’ to help avoid orphanage tourism.
Australian Government response
During the inquiry, the Committee wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, seeking advice on steps the Australian Government is taking to address orphanage trafficking. The Minister expressed concerns that ‘tourism-linked visits to orphanages can encourage unscrupulous operators, which can put vulnerable children at risk’. The Minister noted that, following this letter, she had directed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to develop a campaign to raise awareness on ‘smart volunteering’ and the risks of ‘orphanage voluntourism’:
The campaign will work with the tourism sector, reputable NGOs and the Department of Education to promote the benefits of due diligence when volunteering, especially with children. It will aim to minimise the risk of Australians inadvertently supporting 'sham orphanages' and encourage support for organisations and programs that have strong child protection safeguards in place, It would highlight alternative pathways for people to volunteer overseas that have positive benefits for overseas communities and for Australians.
In responses to questions from the Committee, DFAT noted that:
… Australia’s credentials alongside our long-term partnerships with reputable NGO and volunteer organisations, provide a solid foundation to promote responsible volunteering and increase awareness of the risks of ‘orphanage voluntourism’.
DFAT suggested there are a number of ways that the Australian Government can raise awareness about this issue, including:
Initiate a public awareness campaign to inform the Australian public of the risks of orphanage voluntourism and promote smart volunteering.
Engage with the travel industry on awareness and advice to discourage orphanage tourism.
Work with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) and Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme (OAGDS) to raise awareness and examine ways to strengthen child-safeguarding standards.
Further strengthen the SmartTraveller website to provide definitive advice to travellers not to engage in orphanage voluntourism.
Provide examples through media channels (including SmartTraveller, traditional media and social media) on alternative ways to support vulnerable children and families.
Ensure information on this issue is included on the new Australian Volunteers website (being developed as part of the new phase of Australian Volunteers program, to be launched in February 2018).
Increase awareness and advice to educational institutions regarding the risks of orphanage voluntourism to vulnerable children.
Representatives from DFAT told the Committee that the Australian Government recognises the need to raise awareness on this issue and is already working on a range of these measures.
The Committee heard that DFAT has updated information on the Smartraveller website about volunteer programs and responsible volunteering, which asks volunteers to carefully consider volunteer placements in orphanages.
DFAT is also engaging with the travel industry and education sector to raise awareness of orphanage trafficking. Mr Jamie Isbister from DFAT told the Committee:
… we are now in discussions with the travel industry and with the education sector around looking at ways in which we can raise awareness around these risks both in terms of people’s travel and in terms of people's giving and donations.
Ms Isbister told the Committee that the Australian Government is looking to further develop awareness raising measures:
… we are really looking at how we take that forward and looking at using the minister and others to raise that awareness.
In September 2017, the Minister for Education, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, announced that the Australian Government would work with states and territories through the COAG Education Council to ‘crack down’ on schools and universities sending students to volunteer in overseas orphanages. The Minister noted:
The national government has a leadership role to play in setting education policy, but I hope that we will enjoy co-operation from states and territories, non-government school authorities and universities to ensure that due diligence occurs before groups take off.
The Committee agrees that raising awareness about orphanage trafficking is central to stopping the flow of Australian volunteers and funds to unscrupulous orphanages overseas.
The Committee applauds Australians, particularly young Australians, for their valuable contribution to overseas aid and development. However, it is important that these efforts are channelled towards ethical and sustainable forms of aid. Education on responsible volunteering and ethical aid is vital to ‘counter the selfie moment’ and ensure Australians are not contributing to orphanage trafficking. The Committee believes it is essential that all Australians who consider volunteering overseas do due diligence on the organisation they choose to support.
The Committee considers that a national awareness raising campaign would be one of the most effective ways to educate Australians about the risks of orphanage trafficking. The Committee considers that the Australian Government must play a central role in this campaign through providing leadership, funding and support.
The Committee recognises that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and DFAT have already identified and begun to implement a series of measures to raise awareness about responsible volunteering, orphanage trafficking and the exploitation of children in orphanages. The Committee welcomes the announcement by the Minister for Education to engage with education institutions, as well as the work already being undertaken by the Australian Government through DFAT to raise awareness about this issue.
The Committee considers that the Australian Government should continue to develop awareness raising measures through funding a national awareness campaign. This campaign should be multi-faceted and target volunteers and donors, charities, faith-based organisations, educational institutions, businesses and the travel industry.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Education and other public bodies, continue its initiatives to raise awareness about the risks of orphanage trafficking and the exploitation of children in residential institutions by:
continuing to work with education providers, particularly high‑schools and tertiary institutions, to provide guidance, advice and further information in relation to volunteering overseas on the risks of orphanage trafficking and the exploitation of children in residential institutions;
engaging with the travel industry on awareness and advice to discourage orphanage tourism, except to overseas residential institutions registered as compliant by the Australian Government (see recommendation 41) and operating in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children;
working with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and the Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme to raise awareness of, and examine ways to strengthen, child-safeguarding standards;
further strengthening the SmartTraveller website to provide definitive advice to travellers not to engage in orphanage tourism, except to overseas residential institutions registered as compliant by the Australian Government and operating in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children;
providing examples through media channels (including SmartTraveller, traditional media and social media) on alternative ways to support vulnerable children and families;
including information on this issue on the upcoming Australian Volunteers website; and
increasing awareness and advice to educational institutions and the public regarding the risks of orphanage voluntourism to vulnerable children.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, fund and develop a national awareness campaign about the risks of orphanage exploitation and orphanage tourism, targeting: volunteers and donors; charities; faith-based organisations; educational institutions; businesses and the travel industry. This campaign should include providing written information to these groups on the risks of orphanage trafficking, and include information about the proposed register (see recommendation 41).
As part of this awareness campaign, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with Australian businesses to develop a memorandum of understanding to discourage supporting overseas residential institutions that do not operate in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children and the proposed register (see recommendation 41).
Working with destination countries
Submitters highlighted that awareness-raising in Australia is only one part of the solution, and that more work needs to be done with those countries where orphanages are based.
The Committee heard that some countries, such as Nepal, Cambodia and Myanmar, have revised child protection laws and enacted moratoriums on the establishment of new orphanages. Nepal, Haiti and other countries have also recognised ‘orphanage trafficking’ as a crime in domestic law. However, ACFID and ACCIR suggest that these efforts are undermined by the continuing influx of foreign donations:
Whilst these important legal and policy reforms are resulting in positive changes, efforts to deinstitutionalise care systems, protect children’s rights and prevent exploitation are being undermined by the sheer volume of voluntourists and foreign aid funding that continues to be directed towards residential care despite these legal and polic[y] measures.
Submitters also highlighted the need for aid and support for these countries to develop strong and effective child protection systems. Ms Georgette Mulheir from Lumos told the Committee:
… there's a need for the development of child protection systems and investing in strengthening families and communities to improve their income. There's a great deal to be done in international aid to support governments to put the right systems in place for the most vulnerable; however, the system itself also needs to be dismantled. Once an orphanage exists, it fights tooth and nail to continue to exist. If we only put in place the services that prevent admissions to orphanages, what we find around the world is that institution directors will go around and actively recruit children, because they see their budget going down ... There has to be a systematic dismantling of the system.
Representatives from DFAT also highlighted that addressing orphanage trafficking is ‘not something that we can do alone; the question is how we do it with other regional partners and governments.’ DFAT suggested that the Australian Government could both raise awareness of the issue and advocate for stronger national legislation, standards and practices that support the protection of children through the Bali Process, ASEAN, APEC and other regional fora.
The Committee heard that DFAT works with international counterparts to address child exploitation overseas, including:
activities to improve the treatment of human trafficking victims, including children, in the international criminal justice system under Australia’s regional human trafficking program, the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP);
building the capacity of labour officers and employers to withdraw children from hazardous occupations and child labour through Australia’s TRIANGLE in ASEAN program; and
providing $21 million a year in core funding to UNICEF.
The Committee also heard that DFAT works bilaterally to address child exploitation in Cambodia, including:
encouraging the Cambodian Government’s efforts to implement appropriate community-based care options for vulnerable children;
providing $425,000 (2013-2017) through the aid budget to Hagar Cambodia to provide assistance and aftercare programs (including shelter) for women and children who have experienced human trafficking, gender-based violence and extreme human rights abuse;
supporting Save the Children to strengthen community systems for child protection under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program.
DFAT also noted that Australian aid can support programs to promote longer-term re-integration of children from residential institutions into families or communities. DFAT advised that it will support a ‘learning event’ to ‘capture good practice and share knowledge’ on child protection and re-integration efforts. The event will bring together 57 accredited partners to build on knowledge gained through the Australian aid funded NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).
In addition to programs in Cambodia listed above, DFAT noted that the aid program currently supports initiatives to strengthen child protection policies, including in:
Myanmar: through ANCP, ChildFund Australia is working with Child Focus Network to strengthen local child protection systems through the local Department of Social Welfare; and
Timor Leste: Through the Australian Volunteer program (placing long-term skilled volunteers), supporting the strengthening of systems and policies on child protection.
The Committee recognises that Australia cannot address the issue of orphanage trafficking alone and that cooperation with international governments is essential.
The Committee recognises the important work the Australian Government is undertaking in the region to combat child exploitation and strengthen child protection systems.
The Committee considers that the Australian Government should extend its current work with international governments to raise awareness of orphanage trafficking and support the development of strong child protection programs. The Committee considers that Alliance 8.7 may be an appropriate forum to pursue this cooperation.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, particularly through its work with Alliance 8.7, ASEAN, APEC and other regional fora, as well as international bodies such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), continue to work with international governments to raise awareness of orphanage trafficking and exploitation as a form of modern slavery.
In addition to awareness raising measures, submitters suggested that the Australian Government consider introducing measures to regulate the ‘flow of people, money and resources from Australia to residential care institutions overseas’.
The proposed measures are outlined below.
Regulation of charities and organisations
In its supplementary submission, ACFID and ACCIR suggested that ‘steps could be taken to enhance the regulatory and reporting frameworks already in existence’ for charities operating overseas. ACFID and ACCIR argued that there are inconsistencies in the way existing mechanisms address eligibility for organisations operating or funding residential institutions overseas:
… what is lacking is a common and uniform interpretation statement to support whole-of-government application of existing guidelines to ensure residential activities are always identified and subject to the same considerations in determining their eligibility.
ACFID and ACCIR made an overarching recommendation that organisations should be required to demonstrate compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children (UN Guidelines), suggesting this would prevent the funding of inappropriate residential care services.
ACFID and ACCIR suggested that ‘minimal reforms’ to the following existing mechanisms ‘would likely be sufficient to prevent Australian foreign aid funding from fuelling “orphanage trafficking” and related exploitation’:
Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission (ACNC), including Public Benevolent Institution (PBI) and deductible gift recipient (DGR) registration and eligibility:
Introduce minimum standards for organisations operating or funding activities overseas that include child safeguarding standards and a requirement to comply with the UNCRC and the UN Guidelines, including a transition period for existing organisations.
Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme (OAGDS):
Develop an ‘interpretation statement’ on OAGDS eligibility and residential care, consistent with the UN Guidelines and consider identifying organisations funding or operating residential care as a ‘risk category’ subject to periodic review.
Direct Aid Program (DAP):
Ensure the requirements for Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) funding which exclude supporting overseas residential care institutions as an eligible activity, also apply to the DAP, which is administered by Australia’s overseas posts.
Ms Rebecca Nhep, Joint CEO of ACC International, told the Committee that the eligibility guidelines for these schemes should be consistent to ensure that funding cannot be used ‘to encourage the trafficking of children’.
Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission
The Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission (ACNC) is the independent national regulator of charities. Charities can register with the ACNC under different categories, such as Public Benevolent Institutions (PBIs), which may be eligible to be endorsed as deductible gift recipients (DGRs) by the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 allows for the creation of a minimum set of ‘external conduct standards’ for registered charities operating overseas. However, the ACNC website notes these standards have not yet been developed so this is not a current obligation.
ACFID and ACCIR suggested that introducing ‘external conduct standards’ presents:
… a clear opportunity to recommend specific inclusions to the ACNC to minimise the risk of Australian charities fuelling the ‘orphanage industry’.
Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme
The Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme (OAGDS) enables approved Australian organisations to issue tax deductible receipts for donations made to support overseas aid activities. The OAGDS guidelines require organisations to have ‘child protection policy and procedures in place’, including:
that the organisation has discussed child protection risks and management procedures with project partners; and
project partners have procedures in place to promote child protection and child safe practices including child safe recruitment practices, criminal history checks or equivalent, supervised visits involving children, etc.
ACFID and ACCIR argued that the recent review of the OAGDS by DFAT and the subsequent revised guidelines released in February 2016:
… failed to articulate a clear stance on residential care and removed all former references to the support of overseas residential care institutions as an ineligible activity. No clear guidance was given apart from directing organisations involved with children in institutions to have ‘additional child safe practices’ in place.
Ms Nhep told the Committee that while changes to the guidelines removed exclusionary provisions for residential institutions, they did introduce a stronger human rights framework. Ms Nhep suggested that providing further guidance to develop an understanding of this human rights framework could be ‘low hanging fruit’ for the Australian Government to implement.
Representatives from DFAT told the Committee that the OAGDS guidelines were reviewed to:
… streamline it but to also have a much more clear, rigorous understanding of what the objectives of it were, and with that clearly distinguishing any funding that would be going directly to orphanages.
Direct Aid Program
The Direct Aid Program (DAP) is a small grants program funded by Australia’s aid budget that aims to work with local communities on projects to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.
The Committee heard that the Australian Government’s aid program is guided by a strong child protection policy. Representatives from DFAT told the Committee:
… the department has a very clear child protection policy that guides any investments that are made by the aid program. That is whether they are programs that are directly delivered by DFAT or whether they are delivered by our NGO partners, multilateral partners or contractors. Any staff that are assessing an aid program, including those assessing the DAP [Direct Aid Program], are applying the child protection policies around that and also ensuring compliance with it.
Representatives from DFAT told the Committee that it offers a range of training courses for diplomatic staff on good development practices, including staff assessing DAP applications:
… one of the concerns around any potential funding to residential care units or orphanages is that very understandable risk and trend that we know, where, at times, orphanages are being used as a business model and, at times, resulting in the trafficking of children and exposure to that. The training is at the level of more broadly understanding good development practice, which is around preventing support for long-term welfare initiatives, such as orphanages. The other aspects that I think have been critical are around zero tolerance to any abuse of children, and our child protection policy.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs noted that DFAT’s Child Protection Policy covers all activities funded by DFAT and supports Australia’s ‘zero tolerance approach’ to child exploitation or abuse:
Rigorous systems are in place to ensure that charities funded to deliver activities overseas undertake due diligence on child protection. Robust fraud and contractual mechanisms and regular monitoring help to ensure that activities are consistent with good development practice. DFAT does not support orphanages through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, the Government's largest NGO grant program.
The Committee notes that there are a number of different mechanisms that regulate Australian charities and organisations operating overseas.
The Committee considers it is important that the Australian Government asserts a consistent policy position on the risks of orphanage trafficking across these different regulatory bodies, including the ACNC, DFAT and the ATO.
The Committee acknowledges that DFAT’s aid program operates within a strong child protection framework and that the NGO Cooperation Program does not support overseas residential institutions. The Committee considers that Australia’s aid program should focus on funding family preservation and community-based initiatives where safe and appropriate.
The Committee is of the view that introducing minimum standards for organisations operating overseas requiring compliance with the UNCRC and UN Guidelines could minimise the risk that any Australian charities, businesses and other entities may be contributing to orphanage trafficking.
The Committee is also of the view that the Australian Government should work with the ACNC to assist Australian charities to transition from supporting residential institutions in developing countries.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ensure that Australian aid and other funds do not support overseas residential institutions not operating in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children and the proposed Australian Government register (see recommendation 41).
The Committee further recommends that the Australian Government prioritise aid and other funding for family preservation and community‑based initiatives that enable children to remain in, or return to, their own families, under kinship care and/or under foster care, where safe and appropriate.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government review its guidance for organisations operating overseas regarding the risks of orphanage trafficking, to ensure that there are consistent guidelines across regulatory agencies and schemes, including the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission, the Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme and the Direct Aid Program.
As part of this review, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce minimum ‘external conduct standards’ for organisations operating overseas, including child protection safeguards and compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the proposed Australian Government register (see recommendation 41).
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to assist Australian charities to transition away from supporting overseas residential institutions, particularly in developing countries, that are not operating in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the proposed Australian Government register (see recommendation 41).
Restricting funding and tourism
The Committee heard a range of views on suggestions to restrict or ban funding and tourism to overseas orphanages to minimise the risk of orphanage trafficking.
Submitters associated with ReThink Orphanages suggested regulating the funding of, and participation by volunteers in, orphanages overseas. Ms van Doore suggested that Australia should consider introducing:
… extra-territorial laws that may limit or cease the funding of, or sending of volunteers to, orphanages overseas. This is not intended to limit the amount of funding to vulnerable children, however I believe it would encourage organisations and potential volunteers to engage with the research surrounding the harm of institutional care for children and ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the child.
Some members of ReThink Orphanages strongly supported a total ban on ‘orphanage tourism’. Ms Tara Winkler told the Committee:
… orphanage tourism 100 per cent is just never appropriate. Whether that is to children who are living in boarding schools, safe houses for women who have been trafficked for the sex industry, or whatever, it is always inappropriate to visit people who have been through trauma. We would not allow it here. It is not appropriate in developing countries, either. I would be 100 per cent in favour of a total ban on orphanage tourism.
Other submitters argued that a more nuanced approach would be required when considering limiting funding to overseas orphanages. ACFID and ACCIR suggested that:
A careful balance must be achieved between redirecting funding away from harmful practices and criminal activity without hampering countries’ care reform efforts, defunding alternative care services demonstrating good practice, or creating a situation that promotes unsafe reintegration practices.
These submitters suggested that any limits should not impact on funding to those organisations supporting family and community based models of care. Ms Tara Winkler told the Committee:
… donors have a lot of power to help shift this model. If the organisation that is institutionalising children can demonstrate that it is in an active phase of transforming, that is also a good solution ... The transformation of that model to a family-based care model is probably the best solution. If we can demonstrate that these organisations are committed to the full transformation of their model, support should be continued in that way.
Some submitters suggested that funding for any type of orphanage should be restricted. Ms Winkler told the Committee that institutional care is not appropriate for any child:
I do not believe there is any such thing as a legitimate orphanage. Children are harmed in all forms of institutional care. Whether they are actual orphans or have HIV is not a reason to institutionalise a child. We do not have orphanages in this country, for a very good reason. We would not put a child who had a chronic illness or who did not have family into an institution in this country. That should not be happening anywhere in the world.
In response to these calls to limit or ban support for overseas orphanages, the Committee received a number of submissions from Australian charities and organisations. These submitters warned that any limits on funding or volunteering could have a detrimental impact on their positive work with children in orphanages across South East Asia. For example, Ms Helen Jurcevic OAM, President of the Women’s Friendship Group, submitted that to ban support to overseas orphanages ‘carte blanche’ would be a ‘humanitarian tragedy’.
These submitters acknowledged the risks of orphanage trafficking and condemned its practice around the world. Coffs Harbour Christian Community School, which supports residential care institutions in Indonesia, submitted:
… residential-based care organisations which promote human-trafficking, involuntary servitude, child-exploitation are repugnant and are worthy of the strictest forms of legal judgment and eradication. No one we hope would ever defend such actions as justified or culturally acceptable.
However, these submitters highlighted the need to distinguish between orphanage trafficking and legitimate residential care programs. These submitters expressed concern about comments from Ms Winkler and others that all institutions harm children. Ms Alison Chester, founder of Jodie O’Shea House which cares for children in Bali, submitted:
… to suggest that children are harmed in all forms of institutional care is a step too far. Please do not tar everyone with the same brush.
Similarly, the Cambodian Children’s Fund noted the need to recognise the need for residential care options for vulnerable children:
Closing “fake” orphanages is not an option of choice, it is an absolute necessity. However, the on the ground reality of implementing such an initiative without a diverse and enlightened solution that includes high quality, regulated residential care as an option will result in opportunities for further exploitation and abuse of these children.
These submitters highlighted that international law recognises a continuum of care that prioritises placement with parents and families, but also recognises that residential care may be appropriate in some circumstances to protect the best interests of the child.
The UNCRC asserts the rights of children, including the right to know and be cared for by their parents. Article 20 acknowledges that States are required to provide special protection and assistance to children deprived of their family environment, which could include ‘if necessary placement in suitable institutions for the care of children’.
The UN Guidelines provide guidance on the use of alternative care for children who are deprived of their family environment, noting that residential care:
… should be limited to cases where such a setting is specifically appropriate, necessary and constructive for the individual child concerned and in his/her best interests.
Submitters highlighted the range of legitimate residential care projects supported by Australian charities and organisations and the positive contribution that screened and skilled volunteers make to these projects. Box 8.5 outlines some best practice models of residential care and volunteering administered by Global Development Group.
Box 8.5: Global Development Group projects
Global Development Group (GDG) project J828 is a residential aftercare program in Cambodia for girls who have been subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, rape, or are identified to be at risk. This project works in close co-operation with anti-trafficking organisations and the Cambodian Government’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth (MoSAVY), which oversees the intake, rehabilitation and reintegration of the girls. The girls are provided with protection, medical care, counselling, housing, education, and vocational training. GDG submitted that the ‘residential and specialised care for these girls who have been through traumatic experiences is paramount to their protection and recovery’.
GDG project J282 is a residential care program in China for disabled children in Government Welfare Centres (orphanages). The project works in partnership with the Welfare Centres to improve the quality of care provided to disabled children. The project accepts volunteers who are required to submit an application and agree to the Child protection and Volunteer policy. GDG submitted that many of the skilled volunteers provide assistance and training in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and nursing skills and that this input is ‘incredibly valuable to the project’.
These submitters warned that any ban or limits should recognise the important role some institutions play in supporting children overseas. Hands Across the Water, an Australian charity that supports children in Thailand, submitted:
… it would be dangerous to impose a “one size fits all” approach to visitors and volunteers. We acknowledge that there are people and organisations who do not operate with the same intent of enriching the lives of the children we support and indeed operate with a malicious intent. However, imposing standards or rules based on the malicious intent or a small minority could have collateral damage and see greater harm done than what it seeks to prevent.
Global Development Group suggested that certain organisations should be exempted from any potential restrictions, such as those that comply with existing OAGDS guidelines and the voluntary ACFID Code of Conduct ‘which maintain the highest standards of child protection and have a process of reintegration’.
These submitters recommended that the Committee define orphanage trafficking and orphanage tourism in such a way that legitimate use of residential care and screened and skilled volunteers is not jeopardised, as well as recognise the legitimate use of residential-based care and the valuable contribution of screened and skilled Australian volunteers.
The Committee heard concerns that recent media attention around orphanage trafficking is already having a negative impact on charities working with children overseas. Dr Betsy Williams, a general practitioner who volunteers with organisations in Cambodia supporting family reintegration and children with disability, submitted:
The debate about modern slavery, which has received a great deal of media attention, has unfortunately led many people to no longer trust any orphanage so that donations have dropped for both Sunrise and Green Geckos as well as for other organisations, such as Safe Haven, a project for disabled children in Siem Reap, that have never been orphanages in the first place nor ever had residential care for their children. This has had a damaging effect on the children under their care as these organisations depend entirely on donations. I believe that the parliamentary committee owes it to these children to be clear in their definitions of orphanage “tourism” and not to generalise this to include all orphanages or volunteers who are working for the best possible outcome for these children. Furthermore, donors and supporters of these organisations should be allowed to visit the facility which they support.
These submitters also encouraged the Australian Government to work with regional governments to address the exploitation of children in orphanages. For example, the Australia Cambodia Foundation recommended working with the Cambodian Government and regional neighbours to:
agree upon a consistent definition of the terms “voluntourism” and “orphanage tourism”;
develop an understanding of the laws of those countries which relate to residential care facilities for children; [and]
establish standards to ensure that children in institutional residential care are not subject to exploitation, invasion of personal privacy and abuse that can occur through unregulated access of individuals and groups.
Dr Luke Bearup from the Australian National University, whose research focusses on the reintegration of victims of trafficking and sexual violence in Cambodia, argued that measures should focus on addressing the drivers of exploitation, rather than on a punitive approach to orphanage trafficking:
When a criminal justice emphasis is placed upon perpetrators and victims, the systemic drivers of exploitation are routinely disguised, as is the traditional role of the State in protecting and upholding the rights of children … I am an advocate for greater investment in the protection of identified trafficking victims, and in efforts to reintegrate children accommodated within residential care institutions.
Australian Government response
DFAT noted that, while there is no specific offence for orphanage ‘voluntourism’, conduct potentially related to voluntourism is already criminalised under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Criminal Code). Offences for slavery and child sex offences outside Australia are outlined in division 270 and 272 of the Criminal Code. DFAT provided the following examples to demonstrate how these existing laws ‘capture the exploitation of children in overseas orphanages by Australians who engage in voluntourism in sham orphanages’:
… if an Australian exploits a child overseas, including in a sham orphanage, depending on the facts and circumstances, the criminal offences that may apply to this conduct include: slavery, servitude, forced labour, or forced marriage; and/or a range of child sex offences outside Australia (penetration of a minor outside Australia, intended sexual exploitation of a minor outside Australia, grooming of a minor outside Australia, etc).
The offences have extended geographical jurisdiction and can capture conduct that occurs wholly or partly outside Australia where the offender is an Australian citizen, resident, or body corporate incorporated in Australia
Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, noted that the issues surrounding orphanages are ‘complex’ and expressed significant concerns about an outright ban or restrictions upon supporting overseas orphanages:
I am concerned that an immediate blanket ban on all Australians donating to, or volunteering in, orphanages overseas may have unforeseen consequences for children and reputable organisations working to help communities overseas.
Representatives from DFAT highlighted the significant challenges in introducing any kind of regulation or ban on the flow of funds or volunteers to overseas orphanages. Australia’s Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking noted that the Australian Government does not tend to ‘restrict the capacity of Australians to do things overseas except in very extreme situations.’
DFAT does not support a unilateral ban on supporting overseas orphanages, noting:
… the risk of a ban now is that it has the potential to have very negative impacts on many children that are currently in residential institutional care centres, either for good reasons or sometimes even for poor reasons such as sham orphanages. There is a risk here that a whole lot of centres where children are already in very vulnerable situations are left in very difficult circumstances.
Mr Jamie Isbister from DFAT also noted that the practicalities of accrediting overseas orphanages as suitable for volunteering or funding would be ‘overwhelming’. Instead, Mr Isbister noted that DFAT is preparing guidance for charities and donors to consider whether orphanages may be accredited in the overseas country:
… we will be looking at providing more information as to what people need to be thinking about. It can be things like, 'Is the orphanage accredited by the country itself?' But not every country necessarily has registration or accreditation processes for orphanages. So that might be something we could encourage people to look at but not necessarily to blanket across every organisation.
Mr Isbister told the Committee that the Australian Government considers that awareness raising would be more effective than regulatory measures:
Our view is that raising awareness and bringing people along to that point is a much more effective and sensible way to protect children than a unilateral ban on the funding of orphanages.
Some submitters suggested that regulations should also address the ‘supply chains’ of charities in Australia to ensure they are not contributing to orphanage trafficking. Ms van Doore told the Committee:
… orphanage volunteering that is happening, particularly through travel providers, is a form of business. It makes sense that if we are going to look at supply chains for business in terms of modern slavery then we would also look at this sort of supply chain.
Similarly, Ms Nhep told the Committee:
For Australia to uphold the articles of the UNCRC with respect to children overseas in institutions, it is going to require a commitment to develop mechanisms within our Australian legislation, within our policies and our regulatory frameworks to address the supply chains of our charity sector and also our tourism sector. This is in particular because volunteers are paying for these orphanage experiences, therefore, making it a supply chain issue..
Ms Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, suggested that addressing the supply chains of charities and businesses facilitating orphanage tourism was essential to combatting orphanage tourism:
… unless someone goes after the supply chain, and unless the travel industry and those who are arranging mission trips and are making significant amounts of money out of this are punished for that behaviour, then I don't think it will stop, because travel agents and missions and what have you have got much bigger advertising budgets or networks of the faithful that they can engage with, to just keep providing a supply of volunteers who will keep donating, and who will keep visiting and hugging an orphan and going home and feeling great about that without realising the devastation they've left behind.
The Committee notes that over the course of the inquiry some major Australian ‘voluntourism’ operators have announced they will no longer be supporting orphanage tourism visits.
The Committee acknowledges the differing views on regulating the contributions Australians may make to overseas orphanages through volunteering and donations.
The Committee acknowledges that restricting Australians from volunteering in or donating to overseas orphanages could assist in minimising the risk of orphanage trafficking.
However, the Committee recognises there is an important distinction between exploitation in residential care institutions through orphanage trafficking and legitimate residential care programs. The Committee recognises that residential care is one option on the continuum of care outlined in the UNCRC and may be appropriate for some children in need. The Committee recognises that institutional care should be an option of last resort where placement with family or other family-based care would not be possible, or would not be in the best interests of the child.
The Committee recognises that there are many Australian charities and organisations supporting important residential care services overseas. The Committee acknowledges that any outright bans and restrictions could have an adverse impact on those legitimate residential care programs supported by Australians, as well as have a detrimental impact on children in need.
The Committee recognises that offences related to slavery and child sex offences outside Australia in the Criminal Code already capture the exploitation of children in orphanages by Australians, and that these offences have extended geographical jurisdiction to capture conduct that occurs wholly or partly outside Australia.
The Committee agrees that most Australians would be shocked to discover they may be contributing to the exploitation of children through orphanage trafficking. The Committee did not hear any evidence to suggest that Australians or Australian charities or businesses are wilfully contributing to this exploitation.
The Committee considers that recent decisions by major ‘voluntourism’ operators to cease orphanage tours highlights the important role awareness raising can play in shifting corporate behaviour to minimise the risks of contributing to orphanage trafficking.
Evidence to this inquiry has highlighted that orphanage tourism is a major contributor to the exploitation of children through orphanage trafficking. The Committee recommends that consideration be given to introducing new offences for facilitating, enabling, organising, benefitting from, funding, donating to, or profiting from orphanage tourism, except to overseas residential institutions complying with the UNCRC, the UN Guidelines and that are registered as compliant with the Australian Government.
While the Committee acknowledges that a blanket ban on individual Australians volunteering in overseas residential care institutions would be difficult to implement, it considers that restrictions should be introduced on Australian tourism operators, schools, churches, businesses and others organising trips to volunteer in, or donating to or funding, overseas residential institutions. These restrictions should not apply to residential care institutions that comply with the UNCRC (such as those institutions assisting children with a disability or sexual abuse survivors) and that aim to reintegrate children with families or other family and community based models of care.
The Committee is of the view that a register of overseas orphanages should be established by the Australian Government. In order to qualify for registration, overseas residential institutions would need to demonstrate compliance with a set of child protection standards consistent with the UNCRC, and should support re-integration of children with their families and other family-based models of care where possible. These standards should also require that volunteers in residential institutions be adequately qualified and have the appropriate Australian certifications and child protection clearances.
The Committee is of the view that this register should be made publicly available as part of the national awareness campaign, to assist and encourage individual Australians to choose responsible volunteering options.
The Committee is of the view that Australian organisations and individuals should be restricted to only volunteer with, donate to or fund overseas residential institutions on the register.
The Committee is of the view that the Australian Government consider introducing offences and penalties for businesses and organisations that facilitate, enable, organise, benefit from, donate to, fund, or profit from tourist visits to overseas residential institutions that do not operate in compliance with the UNCRC and the UN Guidelines and are not registered with the Australian Government register as being compliant.
The Committee is of the view that Australian businesses and charities be supported during a two-year transition period to develop plans to divest from supporting overseas residential institutions that do not operate in compliance with the UNCRC and the Australian Government register. The Committee is of the view that overseas residential institutions must actively seek and be granted registration by the Australian Government in order to receive Australian volunteers, funds and/or donations, after the transition period.
The Committee is of the view that a register of compliant overseas residential care institutions would not be burdensome upon DFAT or another government agency to administer, if it is structured on the basis of the overseas residential institution having to apply for recognition and provide evidence of its compliance, as opposed to DFAT or another agency having to actively seek out overseas residential institutions to register. The two year transition process gives appropriate time for legitimate overseas residential institutions to continue operation while seeking registration.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a publicly available register of overseas residential institutions, and develop a set of principles that these institutions must meet in order to be registered, consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children. These principles should include minimum qualification standards for volunteers, and should encourage family preservation and community-based initiatives that enable children to remain in, or return to, their own families, under kinship care and/or under foster care, where safe and appropriate.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, work with governments in source countries to identify residential care institutions and to then encourage these institutions to seek registration through the proposed register.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce offences and penalties for individuals, businesses, organisations and other entities that facilitate, enable, organise, benefit from, or profit from tourist visits to overseas residential institutions, and/or who donate to or fund overseas residential institutions, that do not operate in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children and the proposed Australian Government register. The Committee recommends that these offences and penalties take effect at least two years after the establishment of the register, in accordance with Recommendation 44.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce a two-year transition period during which Australian individuals, businesses, organisations and other entities are supported to divest from funding ‘orphanage tourism’ visits and/or establishing, funding, donating to, or supporting overseas residential institutions that do not operate in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children and the proposed Australian Government register. The Committee recommends that individuals, businesses, organisations and other entities be supported by an independent committee during this period to develop responsible divestment plans.