I work in humanitarian aid, and the organizations that I work for concern themselves primarily with orphanages. On Wednesday I attended the funeral of a girl from one of the homes that I have been to dozens of times. Her name was Kinche--she was seventeen, and had been abducted by/ran away with an older man after being given permission to go downtown for a little while by the orphanage director.
Her history was sordid. She had been raped at a young age by another boy at the home. She had then been abducted by a pedophile who intended to use her to make child pornography. She had then been subjected to a horrifyingly exploitative interview about it that, in a civilized country, would have resulted in jail time for the reporter and a massive lawsuit against the media company. She had run away from the home before, to be with the same man, who she thought loved her.
I blame her for nothing--she was still a child legally, and certainly mentally. Yes, she acted foolishly, and yes, had she acted differently, things might not have turned out the way that they did. But it was not her fault, and she certainly didn't deserve it. I do not blame her, but others must be warned.
And there are so many others. There are tens of thousands of children in the system, abandoned by families who gave up caring for them but refused to surrender adoption rights. Within the system, even basic physical needs often go unmet, to say nothing of the larger needs for love, stability and acceptance. What's worse, children who leave the orphanages have no place to go--they have no money, no jobs skills, and no life skills. They don't know how to write a resume. They don't know how to cook dinner. They don't know how to budget or use computers or shop or apply for college. They have nothing, and they know nothing.
Faced with that terrifying uncertainty, the promise of being loved and cared for seems all the more tempting, making these children even more vulnerable. Even worse, these children have no advocates, no defenders, no one to come looking for them when they go missing, and the people who would exploit them know this. The identity of the man who killed Kinche is known, and he even confessed--yet he remains at large.
Something has to be done. Pressure has to be put on the Bulgarian government to reform its orphanage system--not in the haphazard, half-assed, and random way that "reform" is currently occurring, but real reform, from the ground up. Start by telling parents that it's not okay to give their children up into the homes without also giving up adoption rights. Promote international adoption rather than strangle it with asinine regulations. Provide adequate funding for basic needs, give the children training in life and job skills, and staff the homes at adequate levels.
In the meantime, NGO's (such as the one I work for) do what they can (and they need your help to continue doing so). In addition to providing basic material needs (food and clothing) for children in homes, we're also attempting to start a center for children leaving the orphanage to give them training in job and life skills. It's too late to save Kinche, but her death underscores the urgency of helping hundreds more like her.