Today, millions of vulnerable children around the world are growing up in orphanages, without the love and care of a family. According to UNICEF, as many as eight million are spending their precious and irreplaceable childhood in institutions.
In the best cases, the children are receiving food, clothes, a cot or bed, an education and a roof over their heads. They are supported by well-meaning charities, churches, individuals and governments. In the worst cases, they are isolated, starved, abused, sold into international adoption or sex cartels, and many die.
In all cases, they never get the love, support and sense of identity that only a loving family can give. Hundreds of studies tell us - as does our common sense - that family life is critical to a child's healthy development. Without it, children suffer great harm and are deeply damaged.
The physical and psychological harm
Evidence shows us that children who grow up in institutional care are more likely to suffer from poor health, physical underdevelopment, deterioration in brain growth, and to experience developmental delays and emotional attachment disorders.
Consequently, they have lower intellectual, social and behavioural abilities than children growing up in a family environment. They also suffer the social consequences of having no family support structure and being branded as social outcasts, which often lasts a lifetime.
With the right support, the older children can go on to live fairly normal lives. But most can expect little more than a life of homelessness, loneliness, difficulty developing permanent relationships and turning to substance abuse, crime and self-harm. Many will continue the cycle of placing their children in orphanages, as that is all they all know about childhood and parenting.
For babies and young children under the age of three, the harm is often permanent and irreversible; no amount of physical or psychological treatment will ever restore them. Their future is very bleak.
Every day that a child spends in an orphanage is one day too many. It denies him or her a life in a family and the opportunity to grow up to be a healthy and happy individual.
Rather than creating, supporting and funding solutions that keep vulnerable children in orphanages, we need solutions that keep children and families together.
Children have the right to a better life than the one an orphanage provides.
Read some studies about the harm done to children by being placed in orphanages.
Unintentional harm done by volunteers
Most children in orphanages live with a deep sense of abandonment and most do not have a long-term carer who they are attached to. It is therefore only natural that they form strong bonds with caring volunteers who come to look after them for a while, and who show them care and attention. This bond may include the hope of adoption.
When the volunteer leaves after several weeks or months, the wounds reopen. When this happens month after month, year after year, many children learn to protect themselves from further harm and stop creating human bonds, cauterising themselves from love and hope.
The REPLACE Campaign calls for an end to volunteering in orphanages. Whereas volunteers may feel they are doing the right thing, and it may give them a real sense of well-being and purpose, evidence shows that it is causing the children more harm than good. Please do not be the straw that breaks a child's sense of trust, hope and their ability to love.
Read a study about the harm done to children by volunteering in orphanages.
A child's right to a family life
Almost all countries agree that families are the natural environment for children's healthy growth and well-being. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which most countries have signed up to, states that children not only need family life, they have a RIGHT to one.
Internationally agreed guidelines on caring for children also state that removing a child from the care of the family should be seen as a measure of last resort and, whenever possible, should be temporary and for the shortest possible duration.
There are positive solutions.
By supporting the REPLACE Campaign, you are helping to get all children in orphanages back into loving families and to prevent those who are at risk from being abandoned by their families from entering orphanages.