About eight million children live in orphanages across the world, but 90% of them have at least one parent. Shocking, right? Poverty is one of the main reasons that lead to such situations, combined with the fact that many of these children are disabled, which makes them even less desirable to their families. Young adults growing up in such places are 500 times more likely to commit suicide.
While in orphanages in civilized countries children are provided good food, clean clothes, a decent education, but in poor countries things are not quite the same. They are often subjected to sexual and physical abuse, starve or freeze to death, lie in their own feces for hours or even days, are tied to their beds, and never get to experience human affection and a real childhood.
As if things weren’t bad enough already, some countries, like Cambodia, Myanmar and Haiti, decided to take advantage of the foreigners’ generosity and started what is now called “orphanage tourism”. Children, who in many cases have families, and are borrowed for the sole purpose of attracting donations, are exploited, forced to work and are not fed properly.
A visit to an orphanage is a life-changing experience. Even when children are provided decent conditions, the way they look at you and their desperation to receive a hug are impossible to forget. They need the world’s help, but before lending a hand, make sure you are not actually helping awful people perpetuate a scam.
15. Sighetul Marmaţiei, Romania
Under Ceauşescu’s communist regime abortion was banned and birth control was a taboo. His decree in 1966 was aimed at increasing the population, so he could have more workers and fighters for the nation. Until the fall of the regime in 1989, over 2,000,000 unwanted children were born and over 10,000 women died because of illegal abortions.
Izidor Ruckel was only six months old and had polio when he was abandoned by his parents and when he was three, he got transferred to a “special” institution for disabled children in Sighetul Marmaţiei. The only thing that made this place special was the fact that these children were left to die. The communists had no need for sick children, so they couldn’t care less about their fate. Izidor managed to survive for 8 years until he was adopted by an American family. He visits Romania regularly and never fails to stop by the place that carries so many sad memories. He recalls being crammed in a room with 8-10 other children. They were always naked because there was only one caretaker for every 50 children and they were tired of having to change their clothes. They were beaten, sedated and tied to their beds or in straight jackets so they wouldn’t cause any trouble. After lunch, the children were sent to the “playroom”, an empty room with cold, concrete floors and no toys whatsoever. Anyone crying ended up being sedated. Everyone else just rocked back and forth and did not socialize much with one another. Sometimes children were beaten so ferociously that they would end up dead. The caretakers would simply wrap the body in a sheet and remove it like nothing really happened.
14. Pleven, Bulgaria
Many have heard about the outrageous conditions in the communist orphanages of Romania, but few probably know that Bulgaria has the highest number of institutionalized children in Europe. There are more than 8,000 children in 32 orphanages. A few years ago, the orphanage in Pleven made the worldwide news because of its horrendous conditions. Some of the cases in this orphanage, the so-called children from the 6th floor, were in a particularly disturbing state. These were children as old as 15-16 but looked like three-year-olds. They were emaciated and had deformed and twisted limbs. Nine-year old Veronica had Down syndrome and weighed 10 lbs before her adoption. She was lucky enough to be adopted by an American family, but out of the 154 children in this orphanage, few got their fair share of luck. 98 of them had severe disabilities and they never left their cribs. Babies and young children were left without food for days and nobody bothered to change them when they were wet or covered in vomit. The windows were never opened, so the smell was awful. Diapers are expensive and so are feeding bottles, so each baby got a beer bottle with a nipple on top with a huge opening. They lied down while eating and would start choking as the formula went down. The older kids were fed some kind of meatless soup with crumbled bread, which they had to eat within seconds before the food was taken away from them.
18 children died in over a year and a half in this hellhole. After this story got a lot of attention, a charity organization in Utah, USA got involved and came to the rescue of the remaining children.
13. Mogilino, Bulgaria
In 2009, the orphanage in Mogilino was “home” for 75 disabled children. They all suffered from malnutrition and were occasionally abused by staff members.
Milen, a mute 21-year old with a cleft palate, was brutalized and beaten by one of the workers, incident captured on camera during the making of a documentary. Didi, 20, autistic, was brought in by her mother who couldn’t deal with the girl’s issues anymore. The orphanage was not doing anything to improve the children’s lives, so her condition deteriorated very fast. Didi ended up spending her days rocking back and forth, like many others around her. Vasky, 18, was blind and suffering from cerebral palsy. She was abandoned in the hospital and was brought at Mogilino at four. She loved to dance and sing, but after 14 years of living in this place, she became just another depressed girl, who spent all her time in bed with her head bent down.
12. Tekakwitha Orphanage, South Dakota, U.S.A.
Although such horror stories usually originate in Eastern Europe or poor countries, the U.S. has its own spine-chilling story, that took place between the 1940s and 1970s at this orphanage in South Dakota. Thousands of children were sexually molested and raped by both the head priest, John Pohlen, and the nuns who were supposed to be in charge of their well-being.
A former resident, Mary-Catherine Renville, lived an ongoing nightmare for years. She was repeatedly punished and raped until the day she left the orphanage, as a teenager. She was placed with families, twice, when she was 8, and then 10, but unfortunately, that turned out to be just as bad since she was sexually assaulted by members of both families. She was sent back to the orphanage and continued to be subjected to the abusive lifestyle.
Until the end of the 1970s, thousands of Native American children were sent to orphanages and boarding schools, where many of them were sexually and physically abused. Years later, some of them, who were still traumatized by these events, decided to sue the Sioux Falls diocese. Their testimonies talked about nuns fondling boys and girls during bath time, priests and nuns engaging in sexual contact with children and a mother superior forcing children to simulate sex acts with a doll. The perverted minds probably started their day with a prayer, like nothing happened. You know what they say… “do as they say, not as they do”.
11. Baghdad, Iraq
In 2007, American and Iraqi soldiers happened to come across a dreadful scene: several emaciated bodies lying on the floors of a building. They thought they were dead, so one of them threw a baseball inside and that’s when one of the bodies moved. He was a child and he was alive. The building turned out to be a government-run institution for children with special needs. Except that none of their needs seemed to be taken care of. The soldiers were shocked to discover 24 children, some tied to their cribs, so skinny that they could see every single bone in the bodies. They were all naked and covered in feces, with thousands of flies around, but they weren’t alone. Three employees were cooking food… for themselves. The kitchen’s shelves were packed with food and in the stockroom, they found new clothing items. But none of these was being used for the kids and most likely ended up being sold on the local market, as it is the case in many other countries.
During the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers sprayed about 20 million gallons of the herbicide known under the name of Agent Orange over the Vietnamese jungle and countryside, in order to eliminate forest cover for the enemy troops.
Three generations later, children are still born with severe handicaps: hydrocephalus (brain swelling), cleft palates, mental disabilities, hernias, extra fingers and toes, spina bifida, and various genetic diseases. Many of them are abandoned in orphanages by their families who are unable to care for them or to fight in order to receive financial compensation.
9. Nanning Orphanage, China
The story of this place was brought to the public in the 90s after the South China Morning Post reported that 90 percent of the female girls who came to the orphanage died there.
China’s 35-year-long “one child policy” led to a high number of abortions and in a culture where males are more important, many of the female babies ended up thrown in rivers and down wells or in orphanages.
In Nanning, cots were overcrowded, babies were malnourished and covered in rashes and sores. Many of them did not live very long since the stuff primarily focused on the healthy babies.
8. Minsk, Belarus
In 2016 a journalist spent a few days in an orphanage in Minsk to document the life of 50 disabled children who couldn’t speak or move and appeared to be very malnourished. One of the girls, who was 20, weighed only 25 lbs.
The shocking images outraged millions of people all over the world: how can such things still be happening? Are these real photos or colourized pictures of Holocaust survivors?
Orphanage administration claimed the children would never be able to stand up or walk without a special calorie-rich diet. The children would have to be examined by a doctor, who would then prescribe the special food. But with the bureaucracy and the lack of funds, things are always bound to move very slowly, meanwhile, children are dying. Officials, on the other hand, blame the hospitals and their lack of attention for children who have no future. Does that sound familiar? This “passing the blame” thing happens way too often in former communist countries.
7. Azaz, Syria
The war in Syria has left over 600,000 children without a family and a home. The Azaz orphanage was built in 1945 and housed at that time 50 children. Today, there are 300 children here, for the lack of a better choice. Another 400 children benefit from the services offered by the orphanage (health and education) but live some place else. The building has become insufficient for the large number of children in need. They are also in desperate need for a psychiatrist to help the traumatized children. Without adequate help and guidance, these children are in danger of being recruited by different fighting parties. Syrian children are at high risk of engaging in armed activities.
“I will take my father’s revenge. Assad stole our childhood,” are the words of a 10-year-old boy, mature beyond his years, who carries with him a lot of resentment and anger. He can’t accept the fact that he never got to say goodbye to his father.
6. Mazanovsky Orphanage, Russia
If you’ve ever read anything about orphanages in the former Soviet Union, this is not news to you. Orphanages in modern day Russia are far from being modern, and it’s safe to say they haven’t changed much since the communist era. There are over 120,000 orphans in Russia that live in improper conditions. Lack of funds is always an excuse for children not having nutritious food or enough clothes, but what is the reason for not offering these unfortunate souls attention, affection, a good word or a hug? That seems to be the rule in every one of these hopeless places: children never get any affection. And while children that are physically and mentally healthy still stand a chance, disabled children are pretty much left to die.
In 2013, a video of two young caretakers in the Mazanovsky orphanage beating children went viral and a whole world was left in shock. The video shows seven boys, ages between 7 and 10, in underwear, lined up against a wall, and beaten with a belt, one by one, by the caretakers. The director of the institution was fired, but unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. There are many physically abused children in Russian orphanages. And many of the abusers come from orphanages themselves and are just perpetuating the cycle.
Unfortunately, unless things change, these children are doomed, since American adoptions were banned in 2012, in spite of the fact that previous to that, many Russian children have found homes in the U.S. Aside from that, since 2014, same-sex foreign couples and single people from countries where same-sex marriages are legal are also banned from Russian adoptions.
5. Arya Orphanage, India
In 2012, an eleven-year-old who had been sexually and physically abused for over six months died of external injuries. The tragedy led to further investigation and it turned out that most orphans had been sexually harassed and raped, not only by other children but also by orphanage employees. The reports said that older boys regularly walked into the girls’ restrooms, molested them, made obscene comments, dragged them by the hair and forced them to watch pornographic videos.
In Cambodia, orphans have become part of the tourism industry. Greedy people are taking advantage of children in order to fill their pockets with donations from generous foreigners. Authorities are now urging tourists to stay away from orphanages, as that encourages child exploitation.
A nine-year-old Cambodian girl was taken to an orphanage after her parents died from Aids. She was immediately sent to work at a nearby farm, was often punished and refused food and was even raped by the director of the orphanage. The same director would orchestrate entire performances for tourists: made the children dress in poor clothes and put on a little show to attract donations. All the money went into his pocket, while food, clothing or books were sold at the market.
In the poorest country in Europe, Moldova, there are over 7,000 children living in state-run institutions, but only 2% of them are orphans! Poverty has pushed people into extreme situations. They had to leave the country to find work and decided to leave their children in such places, believing or hoping that the state would take good care of them.
Unfortunately, that does not happen, due to the same poverty and the indifference omnipresent in such institutions. Children spend most of the time inside, in their beds, without playing or socializing with each other. Administration claims there aren’t enough employees to take them outside and supervise them, but many times that is not true.
In Hînceşti, 200 mentally and physically disabled girls try to make it through the cold winter after sixteen of them had frozen to death since the beginning of the season. Emaciated children licking crumbs off the tables, walking on cold floors with no shoes, rooms without electricity and walls covered in feces – images that seem surreal, yet it’s the heartbreaking reality.
2. Casa de la Gran Familia, Mexico
In 2014, Mexican federal police stormed into this group home that was housing 596 people, including 458 children, that were living in horrific conditions. Many of the children had families who had tried to remove them from this place, but they were asked for thousands of dollars in exchange. When the authorities walked in, they couldn’t believe their eyes.
The place was infested with rats, ticks and fleas and food was rotten, with worms crawling all over. Some residents were so malnourished, the police couldn’t even determine their age.
1. Virgen de la Asunción, Guatemala
The orphanage outside of Guatemala’s capital was built to accommodate 400 orphans, but it ended up housing about 750.
On March 8, 2017, while all around the world protests for women’s rights were organized, residents of Virgen de la Asunción were protesting for decent living conditions by setting their bedding on fire. 40 girls between 14 and 17 died of carbon monoxide poisoning and burns. These girls just wanted to be treated like humans, they wanted decent food and a life free from sexual abuse. When they couldn’t take it anymore, they decided to use this form of protest as a last resort, to send a message to the outside world. While the fire was expanding, the police officers responsible for guarding the institution did nothing to help.
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