Why not Child Sponsorship?
To respond to the question of why not child sponsorship (CS), this drawer presents and responds to five key sub-questions. The Research Voices compartment opens with a question about the researcher’s previous article (Better Than Nothing?), published in 2020. The four questions following that article discussion address key issues associated with child sponsorship, such as colonialism, relationships between the Global North and South, the focus on children in CS marketing, and the lack of education in CS programs around issues of global injustice.
The analysis of research data from this study provides clear evidence for why not CS. The evidence is found in the Nolan (2020) article and also through the voices of the research participants as they speak about their own experiences and perspectives.
In 2020, the researcher Kathleen Nolan published a paper entitled Better than Nothing? A Review and Critique of Child Sponsorship. In the following audio, listen to Kathleen share what that previous research was about:
“…child sponsorship is never going to be the solution to the problem. And I think the faster we realize that, and change our core assumptions, the better off we’ll be.”
“… the need to move beyond child sponsorship in tackling issues of global poverty and injustice.”And secondly,
“But that ignores why those individuals are facing the choices and life conditions that they’re facing in the first place. And it takes us out of the relationship— us being Canadians or people in the north— it takes us out of the power relationship of creating and perpetuating the conditions that create the poverty that people in the Global South live within”
“The question of, you know, is it better than nothing? I’ve seen before mostly around really exploitative labor conditions, and especially sweatshops. So, it’s actually a question that gets addressed in the development literature and in development economics of whether—even for those in favor, the admittedly exploitative, and very harmful work conditions in sweatshops— are they worth it? Is that a good thing? Is it better than nothing? And the answer in the mainstream literature is almost always Yes. Not just, it’s better than nothing, they have a job, let’s hope that the conditions improve, let’s work towards improving conditions. But also—and I think you probably have this parallel with the child sponsorship literature or arguments as well—it’s [justified as] an important step on a ladder towards development. And so, there’s this concept… it used to be the takeoff with a metaphor of an airplane, and it’s evolved through the work of Jeffrey Sachs to a ladder, but you have to either take off in your airplane, or you have to get the first rung on the ladder, and then development, the idea that you can move towards an end goal of an industrialized western style society, picks up its own momentum, and moves forward. And so that’s been used to justify the damage that’s required for that airplane to take off, or for that first step to be taken on to the ladder, because we recognize the immediate harm, but we understand the process that will follow and it’s one that’s of benefit, if not to those individuals, to future generations in their country. And so, sweatshops get justified as pulling people out of the conditions that were holding them in poverty, and moving individuals and families and society as a whole forward along this path that is seen as inevitable. I think, you know, I’m not… like I said, I’m not too familiar with the child sponsorship literature, but I think there’s something there that’s similar as well, you know, we’re pulling… we’re pulling kids out of the abject poverty that they’re doomed to sort of remain captive within, unless they receive the funds that will allow them to study and then get a job and improve their family’s life conditions, and if that’s broad enough across society, improve the conditions for the whole country, right? And so again, it’s this thinking that something that is at worst, harmful, and at best really not the most effective or appropriate way to engage in development, is worthwhile because it’s taking a step towards something that those proponents would want to see. But that ignores why those individuals are facing the choices and life conditions that they’re facing in the first place. And it takes us out of the relationship— us being Canadians or people in the north— it takes us out of the power relationship of creating and perpetuating the conditions that create the poverty that people in the Global South live within, and instead places it just on—within the relationship— just on the end of an altruistic donor. And, I mean, it’s only coming together in my mind as I’m talking through the answer, but it reconfigures our position within that relationship in a way that prevents us from taking action that would make a positive impact on the conditions that create that poverty, and instead place us as the only people who can help take the first step out of poverty.”
The next 4 questions in this compartment focused on “Why NOT CS?” (Drawer 1) further elaborate on the ideas of the published article through the voices of research participants.
A Resource Guide for Further Reading and Learning
“…if child sponsors were compelled to pursue deeper engagement with the complex issues of poverty, power imbalance, inequity, etc., they would soon realize that child sponsorship not only reflects an overly simplistic and uncomplicated solution to a complex problem, but they might begin to see themselves and their privileged positions reflected in the actual (re)production of the problem” (p. 27)
Nolan, K.T. (2020). Better than nothing? A review and critique of child sponsorship. Research, Society, and Development, 9(8), e26985574. DOI 10.33448/rsd-v9i8.5574
Access it here
Change a Life, Change Your Own: Child Sponsorship, the Discourse of Development, and the Production of Ethical Subjects (book)
“More than anything, this ridiculous ease with which we are invited to throw off history and injustice and to consume our individual portion of the liberal pie is what makes child sponsorship problematic.” (p. 145)
Ove, P. (2018). Change a life, change your own: Child sponsorship, the discourse of development, and the production of ethical subjects. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.
Access it here
“Millions of well-intentioned individuals who sponsor children are unaware that child sponsorship feeds into asymmetrical power relations of development.”
Sherman, C. (2021). It’s time to end aid agency child sponsorship schemes. The New Humanitarian, 20 April 2021.
Access it here
“Some sponsorship agencies would even claim that they are ‘non-political’, though in this context that would only mean that they have very little impact at all.”
Stalker, P. (1982). Please do not sponsor this child. New Internationalist, 01 May.
Access it here
“Child sponsorship is highly successful at escaping questioning and reproach because it is viewed as a ‘well-intentioned’ and benevolent act on the part of ‘good people’ who want to ‘help’.” (p. 62)
Nolan, K. (2022). Please continue to not sponsor this child. New Internationalist (NI 537), May-June.
Access it here