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Published on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Harry Potter author slams voluntourism schemes


Gap year students who volunteer at orphanages overseas are propping up a system that "irreparably harms children", JK Rowling said.

The author, who founded children's welfare charity Lumos, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while students may have the 'best of intentions', they could be funding orphanages that abuse vulnerable children and sell them into sex work.

Ms Rowling encouraged students to spend time teaching in community schools rather than in orphanages abroad.

"Young people from the West, with the best intentions I have to say, often think the thing to do on their gap year is to go and volunteer in an orphanage," she said.

"They may not realise it, but they are driving what is sometimes a lucrative business model, they are keeping the institution open as a magnet for funding or private donations, they are driving a system that we know from eighty sound years of research irreparably harms children."

The writer of the hit children's series took part in a Facebook Live chat for her charity Lumos, chaired by broadcaster Lauren Laverne, to publicise the plight of the 8 million children around the world who are living in orphanages.Rowling, who founded the non-profit organisation 10 years ago, said: "All of the research agrees that there's little you can do worse for a child than put it in an institution."

JK Rowling set up Lumos, a charity that campaigns worldwide against the institutionalisation of children and removal from their families.

Abusive orphanages sometimes traffic malnourished children around various institutions to encourage wealthy donors to send money, Ms Rowling said, or sexually abuse the children in their care.

So-called 'voluntourism' programmes advertised online charge volunteers as much as £200 per week to live in orphanages and care for children.

Other travel companies advertise tours of orphanages as part of holiday packages for wealthy tourists, or combine travel experiences with time spent working in childcare.

Often, 18-year-old volunteers sign up without realising the harm of exploitative orphanages, Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, told The UK Telegraph.

"There are children that are being severely abused and neglected, but children tell us that they are told they have to smile and sing and tell the volunteers they love them, otherwise they'll be beaten or locked up or they won't get food," she said.

"Of the many [orphanages] we've been involved in closing, children have said they had to put on a performance otherwise they'd be hurt."

In some institutions, 80 per cent of children have parents that are actually alive, she said, but have been persuaded to give up their children in exchange for promised educational opportunities.

Source Daily Telegraph; BBC

Valere Tjolle

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