Please sir, I want a home
ARLENE BROWN is worried about her children. “I have 52,” she says. The former nurse from Pennsylvania founded Urukundo Village, an orphanage, in the Rwandan hillside town of Muhanga in 2006. Half of the children live with her permanently. The rest are at boarding school or university. “I don’t want any of my children taken away,” says Ms Brown.
But they may be. More than half of Rwanda’s orphanages have closed since 2012, when the government decided they were doing more harm than good. There are 14 left, says Hope and Homes for Children (HHC), a British charity that is helping the government. A decade ago there were some 400.
Orphanages have proliferated in Africa in recent decades in response to war, disease and natural disasters. In Uganda the number of children in them jumped from 2,900 in 1992 to 50,000 in 2013. But their number seems to have peaked. In Ghana nearly 100 were closed between 2010 and 2015. The Ethiopian government has shut dozens since 2011. Sudan and South Africa have asked HHC for advice. Several African countries have also banned or suspended adoptions by parents from abroad.
A case can be made against such institutions, particularly the bigger ones. More than a third of children in them suffer abuse, says HHC. Their proliferation has been helped by funding from well-meaning American evangelicals（福音传道的）. Yet their existence has become self-perpetuating as they attract “orphanage tourists”, invited in the hope that they will donate money.
That has created perverse incentives.（不正当动机） Orphanages sometimes search for children to fill beds. A survey in Malawi found that 52% were actively recruiting children who would not otherwise have been considered orphans. Most African orphans have at least one parent. In Rwanda a third are in regular contact with relatives, suggesting that many could be cared for by their extended families. Indeed, before the orphanage boom, African children without living parents were usually cared for in this way. But the promise of a better life may encourage poor parents to give children up.
Yet there is also evidence that the arguments against putting children into bigger institutions may not all apply to the small, community-run orphanages common in many parts of Africa. Research by, among others, Kathryn Whetten of Duke University found that in east Africa (as well as Cambodia and India) children in such orphanages do as well as in family settings—sometimes better. Another study found that those in Kenyan orphanages are better off than if cared for by poor relatives.
The aim of closing orphanages may be commendable. But when done poorly, as has happened in some instances in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, the burden is shifted onto families who cannot cope—and more children end up on the streets.