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Haiti's "Orphanage Crisis": Why Orphanages Are Full Of Children With Families

Updated: May 2, 2022

80% of children living in Haitian orphanages have at least one living parent. (Lumos 2017)

Orphanages in Haiti were created for a combination of complex reasons – poverty, natural disasters, physical/intellectual disabilities, inadequate housing, and lack of health and educational services.

After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the perceived ‘orphan’ crisis as a result, Haiti saw a 150 percent increase in the number of orphanages. While well-intentioned donors sought to help vulnerable children by funding orphanages, it inadvertently fueled a bigger monster: orphanages as a business.

An estimated 30,000 children live in 750 orphanages in Haiti; only 15 percent of which are officially registered with the government. (Lumos)

Today in Haiti, many orphanages intentionally separate children from their parents and families, exposing them to risks of abuse, neglect, and trafficking; all under the guise of opportunity for a better life. Orphanages in Haiti have become, in many cases, a misleading and corrupt system that profits from desperate parents relinquishing their children.

At least 140 Haitian orphanages are believed to have extremely detrimental living conditions where children are at severe risk of violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. While well-intentioned foreigners send money to Haitian orphanages hoping to help the children, it is, in reality, having an adverse effect by propelling the cycle of broken families.

The dark reality is that many Haitian orphanages are run by corrupt businessmen who see an opportunity to profit off of vulnerable children. In some cases, orphanage directors will even hire "child finders" who go out into poor, rural communities and try to convince parents that they are "unfit" to raise their children and that their child would have a better life if they relinquished them to XYZ orphanage. Parents are promised that their children will have better opportunities for education, nutrition, and life in general; than the parents could provide in a family setting. We know that this isn't true.

Children belong in families, not institutions.

Many of these orphanages then use images of vulnerable, starving children to bring in funding from well-intentioned donors. However, in many cases, the corrupt businessmen/women pocket this money for themselves, and the children continue to live in squalor, neglect, and abuse.

Haiti has an ‘orphanage crisis’ not an ‘orphan crisis’.

Accounting for half of the country's total population, children in Haiti are particularly vulnerable. Most Haitian families face daily challenges just to survive; including extreme poverty, lack of resources, education, and infrastructure; minimal access to healthcare, economic and civil instability, and gang violence, among a myriad of others.

The international definition of an ‘orphan’ is a child who has lost one or both parents. Misunderstanding and misrepresenting this definition has led to the widespread belief that there are hundreds of thousands of children in Haiti without any parents or family who could care for them; when actually, the great majority of children in orphanages have at least one living parent or relative nearby.

Research proves that orphanages do not provide viable, long-term solutions for children. Many supporters of orphanages do not understand the lifelong impact of orphanage care on child development, nor do they adequately prepare children to succeed once they 'age out' and are kicked to the streets. In the worst cases, orphanages are rampant with human rights abuses and further propagate issues like human trafficking.

Many Haitian parents struggle to provide for their families. Because of this, 25 percent of Haitian children do not live with their birth parents. Some live with extended family, while others are placed outside of family care, either in situations of child domestic labor (called "restavek") or in orphanages. This is why family and community support is crucial in equipping parents so families stay together.

What is myLIFEspeaks doing about it?