In the Third World, an orphanage is seen more as a place where children-at-risk are taken to and raised until they become adults. From my working experience I have found that there are 5 categories of children in an orphanage:
1. A Child, whose both parents are traceable but are dead and there is no extended family members, who is ready or available to take responsibility for the upbringing of the child;
2. A child, whose parents and extended family cannot be traced, the parents or extended family members having deliberately abandoned the child;
3. A child who has lost one of the parents and he/she is taken to an orphanage either as a result of lack of resources or time to take care of the child;
4. A child rescued from physically or mentally challenged parent(s) or where only one of the parents is physically or mentally challenged and the other and extended family members could is not traceable or are not ready or able to take responsibility for the upbringing of the child;
5. An unaccompanied child, whose parents cannot be traced as a result of natural disaster or social upheaval, who are also referred to as Internally Displaced Persons (children)
It is important to note that none of these categories of children deserve to be raised in an orphanage. Permit me to sound it loud and clear that since we have recognized that an orphanage is not a place to raise children, then the purpose and roles of orphanages should be redefined to be nothing but a reception centre for children in the categories identified above for the purpose of being reunited with their parents, adopted or fostered.
It must therefore become part of the terms of reference of the management of orphanages to sensitize and encourage the public on adoption and foster parenting. Children should only grow up in an orphanage if there are no opportunities of being reunited to their parents, adoption or foster parenting after the orphanage has made concerted and critical efforts to give out the child for adoption and settle the child with a family under a foster parenting program.
The truth is that many operators of orphanages are not enthusiastic to release the children under their care even where there is the alternative of the children being raised by a family either under adoption or foster parenting program. I guess most operators, who unnecessarily hold on to children or frustrate the process of release of children to where they could get family care are ‘genuinely’ afraid of being out of ‘business.’ Honestly, such operators are also out of tune with global thinking against institutionalisation of children upbringing. In developed climes, governments are empowering families, encouraging fostering and adoption as the phase out orphanages. Whether we accept it or not in the Third World, the wind is blowing across the globe and very soon, it shall be here. It is better to prepare for change than to be swept by same.
One of the problems for a child, whose parents cannot be traced and left to grow up in an orphanage is that he/she does is not able to exercise his/her right to identity; that is the right to a name. If a child grows up in an orphanage what name do you call him/her? If you settle the issue of first name, what about surname? Does the child bear the name of the orphanage as surname or is the child adopted by the operators of the orphanage? If the operators must adopt the child, would he/she go through the normal process of adoption as laid down by the law? If the operators adopt the child and give him/her their names as surnames of the child, would he/she take the child out of the orphanage to his/her own home or would they remain in the orphanage? If they remain in the orphanage and they bear the names of the operators, could the ‘adopted’ children be said to have been positioned to reap the benefits of ‘adoption’ beyond being given the names of the operators? If the operators claim to adopt a child and leave the child to continue to live the orphanage would that not amount to an exercise of convenience, which does not take into consideration the best interest of the child? If the operators, after an adoption exercise decide to take the adopted children to their homes, how many can they possibility look after?
What is the future of the child, who grows up in an orphanage when he turns 18 and become a young adult? Do we set him/her up to stand on his own? The questions are endless.
It is important to note that orphanages have devised many means to solve the right to identity problem, but I must say that none of the means completely satisfies the provisions of the law or promote the best interest of the child.
This is food for thought my dear friends and readers and I charge you to join the debate. Think the CHILD…Think TODAY…Think the FUTURE…Do have an INSPIRED week.