Modern Slavery Trafficking

Orphanage Trafficking: Volunteering Gone Wrong

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[Martyna Żuchowska]

It is not uncommon for Australian High schools and even Universities, to organise school camps to third world countries like Cambodia, to do volunteering. The volunteering often occurs in orphanages where the pupils bring the orphans things like books and pencils, play with them during the day, teach them English and even build sport facilities for them or new buildings.

This seems like an amazing opportunity for both the students and the orphans because it allows the students to gain some perspective and also helps out people in need. The orphans enjoy the company and have new facilities built for them without the orphanage having to find the funding themselves.

However, in the past couple years some very troubling information has come to light about the truth behind these orphanages and how they operate. People who run these orphanages have taken advantage of their popularity with Australian schools and have created something called ‘Orphanage Trafficking’. The truth behind this is in many cases is that these orphanages Australians visit, are a scam.

Many children have been found to have living parents and many interviews with these ‘orphans’ have revealed that as children, these people were taken away from their parents in order to be exploited and having to pretend to be orphans in order to make money for the people running these businesses.

An interview with a former ‘orphan’ highlighted how upsetting these visits from school children were because when they left, it triggered their initial separation from their families and the pain would be reoccurring every time a different school would come along.

‘Forget Me Not’, an Australian child protection organisation, has stated that some of the operators intentionally keep the children malnourished in order to make more money off people who will inevitably feel sympathy for the children and their lifestyle.

With the help from various NGOs with campaigning and raising awareness, a Parliamentary committee from the Australian government held a meeting in 2017 and listened to the concerns of these Australian organisations and pleaded to make it illegal for groups to fly to countries like Cambodia and help these scam orphanages.

A Liberal Senator by the name Linda Reynolds, also argued to make “orphanage tourism” a category of modern slavery because of it’s exploitation of children and their unwilling separation from their families.

A chapter has been created by the Australian government called ‘8. Orphanage Trafficking’ and includes a case by a Ms Sinet Chan who was sent to an orphanage in Cambodia at 9 years old. In Chan’s case, her parents had passed away but her experience in the orphanage was still awful and exploitive.

Chan mentions that when students would come to the orphanage, the presents that were given to them would be taken away from them when the pupils would leave. They would then be sold at the markets for extra cash, even if it was food and clothes.

…when students would come to the orphanage, the presents that were given to them would be taken away from them when the pupils would leave.

She described her feeling like everyone was working very had to make money for the orphanage but only later realized that she was being used like a slave. She also experienced physical and sexual abuse against her by the operators of the orphanage and was also forced to work on rice fields when she wasn’t working at the orphanage.

Chan also described the lack of food, clean water and even treatment for infections like HIV which her sister had. In her statement she ends on how volunteers always think that they are helping but the fact is that the more volunteers these village get, the more orphanages are set up to make a profit. Even some of the children’s parents don’t realize how awful their children are being treated.

This all sounds extremely horrible but there is hope. The government has taken a real stance on this issue and it seems that there is an end in sight. Hopefully we see this act be made illegal so these orphanages begin to shut down and stop using innocent children as slaves.

Make Noise


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