Reports of practices of modern slavery include human trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour, sex trafficking, and orphanage trafficking involving roughly 40 million victims (Van Doore & Nhep, July 13, 2018). One of these practices that stands out as particularly heinous is that of orphanage trafficking. Unscrupulous and greedy orphanage managers and tour operators, as well as many unwitting and well-meaning individual are implicated in this practice that contributes to 8 million children living in orphanages around the world (Save the Children, 2018).

                                  What is Orphanage Trafficking?

       Orphanage trafficking is the practice of actively recruiting children from vulnerable families and placing them in orphanages, where they are exploited. Countries that are affected by war, natural disaster, poverty and that experience discrimination of different social groups, usually countries in the Global South, are the countries that are usually targeted. Child finders travel to local villages and communities, where parents, usually poverty-stricken and wishing for a better life for their children, are promised that their children would receive “education, food, security, safety and healthcare …” if allowed to reside in orphanages (TIP Report, quoted in Munroe, 2018).

                                Greedy Orphanage Managers

       Some greedy orphanage managers provide falsified certificates showing the death of parents or abandonment of children, documents obtained from these vulnerable parents who may be caught up in the grips of poverty. Orphanage trafficking therefore provides an adequate number of children that enable some orphanages to convince donors and volunteers of their usefulness and enable them to source much funding and support.

                                  Unscrupulous Tour Operators

       Another source of orphanage trafficking is tour operators. In more recent times, tour operators arrange for well-meaning people mostly from the developed world to travel to developing and less developed countries for vacations. These individuals are given the opportunity to serve in orphanages, ostensibly to improve the quality of life of the ‘orphans’ in these institutions by their volunteering and donations. However, with little or no vetting, there is no guarantee that all ‘volunteers’ have good intentions.

                            Child Trafficking Also in Developed Countries

       Although there are very few orphanages in the developed world, foster care systems that are not rigidly monitored also lead to little accountability for the welfare of the children they are expected to protect and serve. According to Munroe (2018), Programme Officer at Lumos Organization, “we know that there is a clear link between the institutionalisation of children around the world and child trafficking.”

                             The Problem with Orphanage Trafficking

       Orphanages are usually thought of as existing as the last resort for some children, who are victims of “abuse, violence, poverty, parental illness such as HIV/AIDS, natural disasters including wars and tsunamis” (Save the Children, 2018). But orphanage trafficking increases the number of ‘orphans’ they cater to in order to attract donations and volunteers. These institutions are also found to disrupt families, for roughly 80 per cent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent and do not need to be in these institutions (Save the Children, 2018).

                       Poor housing, Unsanitary Conditions, and No Education 

       The major problem here is that these children who have been ‘orphaned” are kept in poor housing, unsanitary conditions, with facilities lacking health care services and with schools blatantly missing (Better Care Network, 2014; Munroe, 2018). In effect, the children in these orphanages end up being uneducated and doomed to lives without hope.

                 Volunteers Poorly Vetted – Potential for Abuse

       A further problem is that those who go as volunteers are seldom vetted properly, opening the door for sexual predators to take advantage of the children to whom they have direct access.

                    The Real Benefits Do Not Go to the ‘Orphans’

        In the meantime, it is the managers of orphanages and tour operators that are really benefitting from the funds and volunteer efforts that are being donated through orphanage trafficking.

                                    How Can We Help

                             Say “No” to Orphanage Volunteering

       We can say “No” to tour operators who promote volunteering in orphanages, and support programs that promote sustainable alternatives to orphanages, e.g. family strengthening, economic development, social work training, family-based care alternatives (Save the Children, 2018).

                                           Do Due Diligence

       We can also do our due diligence if we feel particularly strongly about helping a group in a desperate situation a foreign country. Due diligence involves investigating the organization, looking at how its volunteers are vetted, how the organization protects its children, and whether it is seeking ways of finding a long-term alternative solution.

                                         Political Advocacy

        Individuals and organizations can encourage political leaders to take stringent action in developing laws and policies to protect children and discourage orphanage trafficking (Save the Children, 2018). For example, in Australia, this is seen in “Hidden in Plain Sight: An Inquiry into establishing a modern slavery act in Australia” (Anti-Slavery Australia, 2017).


       Children and young people should made aware of the importance of being careful with their online communication and not fall for inducements that may be offered on the Internet (Unitas, 2019).

                                 Support for Organizations

       We should support organizations that work specifically with eliminating orphanage trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.

                      More Attention Given to Respect for Others

        More attention should be given to respect for others. We should respect all people, regardless of their social status or class, race, gender, or other difference. Respect will equip us to recognize when children and other young people are not being treated with human dignity and motivate us to do something to promote successful youth living (Shockness, 2019). We can all help by ensuring that we see other individuals as the special human beings that they are.


Anti-Slavery Australia (2017). Hidden in Plain Sight report a huge step forward in the fight against modern slavery. Retrieved from

Lumos Foundation (2018). Orphanage trafficking recognized as a form of modern day slavery. Retrieved from

Munroe, A. (2018). Orphanages and Child Trafficking are linked – International Recognition of this will change lives. Lumos Voices, Retrieved from

Save the Children (2018), Say No to Orphanage Volunteering: Why Volunteering in orphanages is not the best interests of children. Retrieved from

Shockness, I. (2019). Respect is Only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias. Available at Amazon at

Unitas (2019). Human Trafficking 101. United to fight against human trafficking. Retrieved from

Van Doore, K. E. & Nhep, R. (2018) – Orphanage Trafficking and the Modern Slavery Act in Australia. Retrieved from

Israelin Shockness at  and at www.successfulyouthlivingblog

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