Harry Potter fans and — who are we kidding? — pretty much everyone else, considers the advice of JK Rowling to be the word of God. But at first glance, this particular piece of advice might raise some eyebrows. Speaking at the One Young World summit in London, Rowling encouraged students to stop volunteering at orphanages, claiming that orphanages perpetuate the abuse of children, child trafficking, and family separation.
“Despite the best of intentions,” she said, “the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives and industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse.”
While orphanages are widely considered to have a positive effect on children’s lives, Rowling says that when you peel back the curtain, “It has huge effects on their normal development, it renders children vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, and it massively impacts their life chances.”
According to the Lumos charity, many volunteers are unaware that children in orphanages are 500 times more likely to commit suicide, 40 times more likely to have criminal records, and ten times more likely to be involved in prostitution. Volunteers frequently pursue volunteerism to boost their resumes, without any knowledge of the insidious nature of the institution.
Alex Christopolous, CEO of Lumos, said “Most children in orphanages are not even ‘orphans’ – they are placed there due to reasons such as poverty, disability, or to receive an education, and many have a family who could care for them, given the right support.”
To remedy the situation, Rowling launched a global campaign called #HelpingNotHelping, which aims to change attitudes toward orphanage tourism and volunteering. It calls on schools, colleges, and universities to revise their volunteer programs to reflect the problematic nature of orphanages. Rowling wants to encourage schools to promote other, more ethical forms of volunteerism.