UN report calls for action to help Liberian children living in orphanages

UN report calls for action to help Liberian children living in orphanages

The United Nations Mission in Liberia today released a report documenting how hundreds of the country’s children – many with living parents and other relatives – are being kept in inhumane conditions in orphanages, some run for profit, and recommended measures to address these abuses.

“Sadly, living conditions in orphanages, especially those lacking ministerial accreditation, were frequently well below the minimum standards,” UNMIL said in a news release on the report, which was based on a survey of nearly 100 orphanages.

The report proposes urgent action to protect separated children who continue to live in unacceptable conditions in orphanages, despite the progress made since 2003 in the establishment of peace and stability in Liberia.

Abuses documented in the report include poor hygiene, bedding and clothing, lack of education, lack of access to adequate food and water supply, exploitative child labour, inhuman and degrading treatment and separation from families, UNMIL said.

Most orphanage proprietors and staff did not have the requisite training in child protection and childcare, while the Liberian ministry responsible for the oversight of orphanages “does not have the necessary resources to provide adequate monitoring of conditions and to take action to protect children in these institutions,” the mission said.

The report shows that more than half the children living in the assessed orphanages actually had one or more parents living, or extended family members.

Harsh economic conditions facing the community at large have had a particularly severe impact on families, with the consequence that many families find themselves tempted to send their children to orphanages. Families were induced to surrender their children to orphanages with unfulfilled promises of better education and nutrition, as well as opportunities to migrate to the United States.

Orphanage proprietors, a number of whom run their establishments as businesses for profit, stiffly resisted efforts by the Government to reunite these children with their relatives.

In addition to these abuses, the study confirmed that many illegal overseas adoptions were taking place through orphanages, facilitated by weak Government adoption procedures. These adoptions stymie any chance of reunification of the child with his or her family and may prevent the child from knowing his or her true identify and cultural background, UNMIL pointed out.

“The findings of this report are intended to support efforts by the Government of Liberia and civil society to reform and strengthen the national procedures relating to orphanages and adoption,” the mission said.

“Children are among the most vulnerable in Liberia, and need special attention from both Government and civil society to ensure that they receive the protection they need in order to develop into responsible members of society. The closure of all illegal orphanages, ending of illegal adoptions and the reunification of children with their families are an essential next step towards a better future for all Liberians.”