On 25 April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. Latest estimates suggest that 7500 people have been killed and 1.7 million children have been affected, with schools, homes and, in some cases, entire communities destroyed.
Worryingly, at a time when traumatised children need to be with their families the most, there is growing concern that children may be unnecessarily pulled away from their loved ones. Since Nepal’s civil war, unscrupulous children’s homes and their brokers have already preyed on vulnerable families in rural areas, promising children safety and an education, but in reality using children to raise money from well-meaning donors and volunteers.
Organisations such as Next Generation Nepal are now deeply concerned that the earthquake will accelerate this trend. They report that aid money is flooding into the country and that some children’s homes are offering more places for children. Relief efforts may not reach remote and badly affected villages fast enough to stop the likely flow of children taken away from their families and brought to profit making “orphanages”. UNICEF and other child protection partners in Nepal have started a campaign to discourage orphanage volunteering and encourage donations to reputable organisations that work to support families. We, at Family for Every Child, support Next Generation Nepal and UNICEF in this important effort.
We know only too well how an emergency such as the one facing Nepal can shape how a country cares for its children for years to come. Within Family, organisations such as Uyisenga Ni Imanzi in Rwanda and Muhammadiya in Indonesia are still working to reverse the massive rise in institutional care that happened after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004.
Nepal has a strong tradition of extended families and wider communities caring for children, and the vast majority of children who have been affected by the earthquake, including those that have been orphaned, have family members who could care for them. It is these families, and not orphanages, that should be prioritised in relief efforts. History tells us that a failure to do so will leave a legacy that will damage children and families in Nepal for decades to come. Let’s reverse this trend.