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Beyond Orphanage Visits

1. Introduction: beyond orphanage visits

It is now widely accepted that visiting or volunteering in orphanages is harmful to children.  The purpose of these pages is to bring together in one place some the best resources about this issue – this is to assist travel and volunteering organisations in three ways:

  • to properly understand the problem;
  • to consider some of the responsible alternatives; and
  • to consider how to safely and responsibly transition towards these more ethical approaches.

This resource has been developed by Martin Punaks – an experienced international development and child protection consultant who has worked at the front-line of orphanage trafficking and voluntourism, as well as in a supportive role with travel and volunteering organisations wishing to improve their products.

The resource is divided into six sections:

  1. Introduction: beyond orphanage visits
  2. The Problem: why are orphanage visits harmful?
  3. Alternatives: what does good practise look like in principle?
  4. Alternatives: what does good practise look like in practice?
  5. Pitfalls: what should be avoided when developing alternatives to orphanage visits?
  6. Transitions: advice on safely moving away from orphanage visits

Some important things to be aware of:

  • The term ‘orphanage’ is most commonly used in this debate, but this term can be limiting in so far as travellers and volunteers visit a range of residential care services for children, which can be equally as harmful. Children’s residential care can be known by multiple names including: orphanages, children’s homes, childcare homes, institutions, boarding schools, hostels, children’s villages and many more.  I have mostly used the term ‘orphanage’ in this resource, but this should be understood to include the full range of children’s residential care services (see more on the use of terminology in the Pitfalls section).
  • I use the term ‘orphanage visits’ in this resource to refer to both orphanage tourism and orphanage volunteering.
  • I do not ‘name and shame’ in this resource, but where appropriate, I do ‘name and fame’. However, where I cite an organisation as a model of good practice, my endorsement only refers to the specific practices discussed and should not be understood as an ethical endorsement for the organisation’s practices as a whole.
  • When transitioning away from orphanage visits, organisations are strongly advised to seek professional support from qualified child protection and responsible tourism experts. Details are available in the Transitions
  • The child protection, tourism and volunteering sectors are constantly changing, and while the information provided in this resource is correct at the time of writing, I cannot guarantee that it will remain so.
  • The images used in this resource are based on real photos which have been turned into illustrations by Luci Gardner O’Brien of people and places: responsible volunteering. As a society, we are sharing more images than ever before. Whilst this brings many benefits, we need to make sure that the images being shared will not harm anyone.  The consequences of taking and sharing photos of children without their guardians’ permission not only infringes on their privacy but may, in some situations, reveal their location and put them at risk of abuse by those who wish to harm them.  The images we are sharing show real situations without infringing on any individuals’ privacy. We hope they will make people stop and think about how images are used, as well as encourage good practice when it comes to volunteering.  The images are copyrighted to people and places / Luci Gardner O’Brien.
  • A downloadable PDF version of this resource is available here:
  • I would like to thank the many individuals and organisations that supported me in collating these resources.

Next: 2. The Problem: why are orphanage visits harmful?

The information provided on these Beyond Orphanage Visits pages is copyrighted to Responsible Tourism Partnership / Martin Punaks 2019.  All rights reserved to Responsible Tourism Partnership and Martin Punaks.  Responsible Tourism Partnership and Martin Punaks welcome requests for permission to reproduce or translate text in part or in full – enquiries should be addressed to martinpunaks@hotmail.com.

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