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Children exploited by fake orphanages in Indonesia

In a Radio 4 programme which aired yesterday, the BBC highlights how children are being exploited by people running ‘fake’ orphanages on the Bali island of Indonesia.

Bali now receives over 2 million tourists annually and securing cash from caring holidaymakers is seen as a lucrative way to earn a living. Over the last two decades, the number of orphanages on the island has doubled. The BBC’s report says that many of these establishments are effectively being run as businesses, taking ‘donations’ from unsuspecting tourists and using the proceeds to line the pockets of the owners.

One woman in charge of a legitimate orphanage in Bali admitted that the directors of some facilities are driving around in expensive cars, while the children they care for live in squalid conditions. Some youngsters even have to work during the day or go out onto the streets to raise extra money. At one orphanage visited by the BBC’s reporters, the children said they were given lessons in the evening, but complained they were usually too tired for their studies.

According to the BBC’s findings, there are now 78 orphanages in Bali, providing a home to several thousand youngsters. Many of these are not orphans. Once they are in care, the state pays an allowance to the homes which take them. However, more revenue comes from tourists, who often make impromptu visits to see local children and then give donations for what appears to be a worthy cause.

To maintain their numbers of children, some orphanages even campaign in rural areas for new ‘recruits’. Directors persuade poor families that their children will have a better life within the orphanages. Once they’ve left their family homes, some at a very young age, the children are then vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. One young girl, who spent six years at an orphanage from the age of five, was beaten and forced to sell food on the street. The girl said she wanted to leave but wouldn’t have received her school record if she’d done so.

Having raised the issue with the Indonesian government, the BBC was told by the Social Welfare department that officials would look into matter. But the director of one legitimate charity believes the quickest way to stamp out the racket is to raise awareness among visitors to Bali. She wants tourists to ensure they do not hand over any cash to individuals and only make out cheques to registered charities.

SOS Children is one such registered charity working in Bali. The SOS Children’s Village lies 20 miles west from the island’s capital of Denpasar. Here, children are looked after in a loving environment within 12 family homes. Education for the youngest is provided by an SOS Nursery school and older children can live in Youth Homes. Around 100 children are also supported within their families through a Family Strengthening Programme.

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