The Orphan Industrial Complex: The Charitable Commodification of Children and Its Consequences for Child Protection
Orphans are often seen as the quintessential children in need of intervention to prevent their suffering. Many charitable organizations promote the building of orphanages, encourage volunteer work at such institutions, and even posit international adoption as a solution to purported “orphan crises.” Western demand for humanitarian experiences with orphans thus engages children in developing countries directly with international capital through an increasingly prevalent lay humanitarianism in developing countries whose “orphans” are targeted for “rescue.” Such engagement, we argue, is fostering the growth of a global “orphan industrial complex.” This chapter explicates the concept of the orphan industrial complex to argue that persistent narratives of “orphan rescue” not only commodify orphans and orphanhood itself but—counter to their stated goal—can actually spur the “production” of “orphans,” resulting in child exploitation and trafficking. The orphan industrial complex is therefore jeopardizing not only children but families, communities, and even entire national child protection systems.
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