Aussies urged to think before they give
17 June 2019 at 3:48 pm
Australian donors are putting children at risk of harm by supporting overseas projects without applying proper scrutiny, a child protection expert warns.
Leigh Mathews, the co-founder of the ReThink Orphanages Network, told Pro Bono News that philanthropists and regular givers needed to do their research on where they spent their donations.
She said many Australians were emotionally driven when donating to children’s causes and did not focus enough on protecting the rights of the child.
“There’s an assumption sometimes that because a project is trying to support children therefore it must be good,” Mathews said.
“We need to step away from that idea and approach assessing these projects for children with the same rigour that we would assess any other project.”
Mathews has worked in the international child protection sector for more than a decade, and has led the push to stop Australians supporting and volunteering at overseas orphanages through her work with ReThink.
Students heading overseas to volunteer at orphanages (known as “voluntourism”) is a popular practice, but advocates have highlighted the strong links between children in orphanages and modern slavery.
The government of Haiti has estimated 80 per cent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent, and almost all have other family members.
A 2017 study found parents were driven to place their children in orphanages because of poverty, lack of access to basic services, and the desire to provide their kids with an education.
Mathews said another factor of children entering harmful institutions was the amount of money coming from overseas donors to support their care.
She said the lack of awareness around this represented a gap in donor knowledge.
“We need to see donors implementing child protection strategies and frameworks in their own giving strategies to ensure they’re not inadvertently supporting harmful projects,” Mathews said.
“This means ensuring child protection considerations are integrated into funding proposals.
“[Foundations] should be developing internal policies around what type of children’s projects they will and won’t give to… and when they’re asking for evaluation of a project, child protection should be a part of this.”
Mathews recognised that many foundations and high-net-worth donors did not have the technical knowledge to implement this, which meant increased education and awareness was vital.
The work of advocates like Mathews has already led major volunteer travel companies to stop sending Australians to overseas orphanages.
The federal government has also got behind the push, looking to end Australia’s involvement in orphanage tourism with the passing of the Modern Slavery Act.
Mathews agreed there was certainly more awareness of the issue among both the general public and the not-for-profit sector, but said more work needed to be done.
“We need to make sure all sectors that are involved in supporting vulnerable children have a general understanding of the child protection issues that arise when supporting these projects,” she said.
“I still think that’s what is really lacking at the moment.”