According to several studies(1), more and more children around the world are separated from their homes and placed in residential facilities. However, most of them are neither orphaned nor abandoned: they are placed into these institutions due to financial or family difficulties, as is revealed by a new survey conducted in Madagascar. In a context of philanthropic support and the high demand for international adoption, the child protection role of these organisations is thus diverted. In order to guarantee "children's best interests" by keeping them within their families(2), efforts must be focused on the fight against poverty and the reduced stigmatization of certain children.
Contrary to public opinion, the majority of children place in residential facilities are neither orphaned nor abandoned: their parents are quite simply unable to support them, going through a relationship break-up or are single(2). As such, the child protection role of these institutions is redirected to the goal of providing social support in the face of poverty and family breakdown, which reduces the capacity of residential facilities to care for children in real danger: exploitation, abuse, abandonment, etc.
Only one-third of orphans
A new survey conducted in Antananarivo among 40 residential facilities illustrates this trend. Based on the findings of researchers in the Madagascan capital, two-thirds of children living in care facilities still have at least one of their parents. In more than three out of four cases, the institution is in contact with a family member.
The disintegration of homes, a risk factor
These practices occur in a social and cultural context where the child belongs to a lineage rather than a parental couple and where his/her care is divided among the entire family network(3). This system is undergoing tremendous change: increasing urbanisation, less support from social solidarity institutions, high matrimonial instability, the stigmatization of single mothers or rejection of children born from a previous relationship... The disintegration of homes and weakening of solidarity diversifies methods for taking care of children and sometimes leads to their placement into an institution.
The necessity of these placements
The child's placement is seen by the families and players in the sector as a long-term or even final solution and not as a temporary measure. It is rare for young people to return to their biological or adoptive families. Since 2005, Malagasy law provides that the placement should be ordered by the competent administrative or legal authority and its necessity should be re-evaluated on a regular basis. However, there are not enough means to enforce this law.
In a context of strong pressure resulting from the demand for international adoption, it is important to bear in mind that this solution should represent the last resort for proper childcare. Efforts in this area should focus on prevention to help keep or return the child among his/her family -- while fighting against discrimination and improving responses to poverty through social assistance, for example -- and on the organisation of the institutional care provided, in order to ensure that it offers a suitable solution for children at risk.
(1) 2003 and 2009 Reports of the NGO Save the children, Mansour et al. 2006, Powell et al. 2004, etc.
(2) The International Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations on 20 November 1989 declares that family-based childcare is most likely to guarantee "children's best interests."
(3) Child donations or transfers are frequent within families (in the broad sense of the term).
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