Efforts are being made to end the practice of people travelling from Ireland to volunteer and visit orphanages worldwide.

It is part of a global effort to end international orphanage volunteering and the institutionalisation of children.

Comhlámh, which promotes responsible international volunteering and development work, will lead a presentation in the Oireachtas this morning to highlight what it has described as a "harmful system".

It is calling on the Government to meet its international commitment in supporting global care reform, ensuring family and community-based care for every child.

In 2019, a UN General Assembly resolution recognised the harm caused to children who are institutionalised and the harm of orphanage volunteering worldwide.

It called for the end to both practices.

Ireland supported the resolution, however, Comhlámh and NGOs that work with children are concerned that the public is not aware of the resolution.

They say support from Ireland of orphanages through fundraising, volunteering and visits runs counter to international commitments promoting family and community-based care.

Decades of international research has shown that young adults raised in orphanages are ten times more likely to fall into sex work, 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and 500 times more likely to take their own lives than their peers according to group.

The End Orphanage Volunteering working group has called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to introduce a foreign travel advice warning of the harm caused by orphanage volunteering (including the risk of incentivising trafficking), to encourage people not to visit or volunteer.

It says Irish Aid should recognise the harm of orphanage volunteering and introduce funding criteria that no programmes or activities that involve sending volunteers to orphanages will be supported.

It has also called on the Departments of Education, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, to develop child-safe guidelines for trips overseas, including guidance not to visit or volunteer in orphanages.

The campaign, which is called 'Put Children First: End Orphanage Care', has received the formal support of 35 organisations, including the INTO, INMO, Volunteer Ireland and UNICEF Ireland.

'Volunteering is done with the best of intentions'

Members of Comhlámh made a presentation to TDs and Senators in Leinster House today.

Emma Lynch, Church Engagement and Education Manager at Tearfund Ireland, was among the charities at this morning's event and she told RTÉ's News at One that the message is that Irish people should not volunteer at orphanages abroad.

She said that this had been a widespread practice that people from Ireland volunteer overseas for example during gap years, as part if school trip or a summer volunteering programme.

The vast majority the volunteering is done with the best of intentions, she said, but from listening to care leavers and care experts around the world as well as a growing body of research, "we are realising it's harmful on a number of levels".

Issues include attachment and negative long term life outcomes, as they find it difficult to form relationships later in life and it reinforces a sense of abandonment.

She said that an institution cannot replace the one on one care provided in a family setting, such as your own family, community or extended family.

She said that the call for families to be strengthened and for children not to be institutionalised is underpinned by human rights instruments such as UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and those with disabilities. She said that they would state that the child has a right to grow up in a family and that institutions should be progressively illuminated and have a transition to family based care for all children.

She added that people shouldn’t be travelling to volunteer in orphanages, and she would encourage engagement with Comhlámh, who have a code of practice for all organisations that promotes good volunteering to support families and communities and strengthen them.