A simple Google search for “Ecuador orphans,” expected to provide factual information, instead it presents a plethora of pages touting orphanages to donate to, opportunities to volunteer in Ecuador, children to adopt and personal fundraising pages. Even with some keyword tweaking, clearly orphans in Ecuador have abundant needs, but very few scholarly or news articles provide coverage of the issues. In an effort to fill that apparent statistical lack, orphans in Ecuador relate to the country’s poverty and crime rates in eight factual ways.
Eight Facts About Poverty, Crime and Orphans in Ecuador
- Ecuador is part of a global crisis for children born in poverty. Of the children who live in orphanages worldwide, about 80 percent have at least one living parent. Since AIDS took the lives of so many parents, UNICEF changed its definition of an orphan in the 1990s to children, those under 18 years old, who have at least one deceased parent. Under this new lens, there are about 140 million orphans worldwide. Many of them, unsurprisingly, are located in some of the poorest countries in the world. Asia has 61 million orphans, and Africa has 52 million. Ecuador falls into the geographical location in third place for most orphans, as Latin America and the Caribbean have 10 million between them. The most common reason cited for living parents placing their children in orphanages is an inability to afford food.
- Developed countries have responded to poverty and orphans in Ecuador incorrectly because of this nuanced terminology. Countries like the U.S., that only consider children with two deceased parents to be orphans, tend to interpret global statistics about orphans as reflecting the number of children who need homes. Many well-intentioned efforts then provide for the needs of individual children instead of combating the poverty in their families that sent them to orphanages. Thus, parents continue sending their children away to these homes because that is where the resources are funneled.
- Ecuador’s government had historically attempted to respond to poverty by channeling money in the wrong places. It too has tried to help needy families by funding orphanages instead of providing social programs for individuals and families to eventually be able to take care of their families without having to send children away. This would prevent perpetuating the orphan crisis by discouraging parents who believe their children will be better provided for in orphanages than at home.
- Institutionalizing children has proven to have negative effects on their development behavior, causing many to remain in poverty after they leave their orphanages. The government makes little effort to monitor harsh punishments and sexual abuse, leaving children psychologically damaged and creating a barrier to fending for themselves. Even for those who do not live in abusive situations, orphanages often constrain children socially, keeping them insulated among a relatively small group of peers, and then release children suddenly into the world, with little training and life experience to prepare them emotionally or academically for obtaining jobs and housing.
- Restore17 connects orphans in Ecuador with the country’s crime rates. Restore17 is a charity that does not pop up in the initial onslaught of Google results for “Ecuador orphans,” but deserves to be highlighted. Their mission statement reads: “Restore17 seeks to prevent boys from being exploited by providing them with hope and a future through holistic Christ-centered care.” Tangibly, they do this by working with orphans in Ecuador at a children’s home because 70 percent of males who grow up in orphanages eventually become criminals as well as face elevated rates for suicide and depression and heightened risk of involvement in human trafficking and gangs.
- Restore17 seeks to interrupt this progression from orphans in Ecuador to criminals by partnering with a children’s home for boys to provide holistic care. This involves attempts to meet spiritual needs, providing hygiene products, meals, healthcare, help with homework, technical training and attempting to give them a fun childhood with outings and birthday parties. Restore17 is also attempting to provide for male orphans in Ecuador after they turn 18 by building Casa Esperanza. This home will allow them an opportunity for transition past when orphanages will house them, giving them time to enter full adulthood. The vision is to help both the truly parentless young men who still need a place to live and those who have moved back with their families. By providing a space where wifi, school supplies and tutoring and mentoring are available, Restore17 hopes to reduce the necessity of turning to lives of crime.
- The total rate of orphans globally is declining, and Ecuador has contributed to this by allocating more funds relieving poverty through different means than funding orphanages. Since estimates about the number of orphans peaked in 2001, the rate has decreased on an average of 7 percent a year. Ecuador has shifted to combating poverty at its root instead of after children that have already been affected to such an extent that they end up in orphanages. A government spokesperson specifically cited efforts to make homes safe for those who could not afford to do so independently. The United Nations has applauded their commitment of resources, and the numbers seem successful. The country’s poverty rate has dropped by 14 percent since 2006. Extreme poverty has decreased by 50 percent since then, boding well for the creation of fewer orphans in Ecuador.
- However, orphans in Ecuador from rural regions that face higher poverty rates remain at a disadvantage. Poverty is concentrated in rural areas in Ecuador, where 70 percent of the population was poor in 2000, as opposed to 13.7 percent of the urban population. The numbers of children in poverty in these rural regions are staggering. For example, in the province of Bolivar, 91 percent of children and adolescents are poor, with Chimborazo and Esmereldas following close behind. This reveals the need for Ecuador to keep addressing poverty at the source for the sake of all of these children who could become part of the orphan crisis.
Clearly, such a system that inadvertently funnels non-orphans into institutions and perpetuates poverty must be directly combated. However, organizations like Restore17 enter into the present reality to provide stable homes and equip boys to overcome poverty as men. It is a good beginning. Such efforts should help create a new financially capable and empowered generation that will be able to raise their children at home and above the poverty line.
– Charlotte Preston