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Aging Out in South America

We started this series, Glimpses, with the United States because this is where we have access to the most information regarding youth in state care. As we move to show the different situations worldwide, we are grouping countries together to explain the situation as fully as possible. We want to clarify that this information comes from research rather than experience, which means it is incomplete. Try as we might, we can’t account for the children who are off-record or for the ones whose stories are misrepresented. If you have first-hand information you would like to add, please comment below!


"...In 1978, civil war broke out, which brought the five-decade long brutal dictatorship of the Somoza family clan to an end. This civil war, many years of dictatorship and the tremendous damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 left the country in a precarious economic situation.

With nearly 40 per cent of the total population living in poverty, Nicaragua is now one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Nearly 80 per cent of Nicaraguans live on less than two USD a day and food scarcity remains a significant problem with a shocking 27 per cent of the population suffering from undernourishment - the highest percentage in Central America. Especially in rural Nicaragua, poverty is omnipresent: many people do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

The government of Nicaragua ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990 and education is compulsory and free of charge up to the age of 12.

Although the country’s Labour Code asks for parental consent before children under 15 are legally entitled to work, Nicaraguan reality is quite different. According to recent studies, approximately 320,000 Nicaraguan children aged 5-14 are involved in child labour activities. Three in five Nicaraguan children are employed in the agricultural sector, working mostly in the banana, cotton and tobacco industry.

Others wander the streets of Managua where they sell merchandise or clean car windows for a few pesos. In Managua, nearly 1,000 children live on the city’s largest garbage dump “La Chureca” where they dig for food or recyclable material that is later sold in the streets of the city. Thousands of homeless children roam the streets without access to food, education or family support. Most of them sniff glue in order to forget about their daily hardships. According to estimates by the World Bank, 8 to 12 per cent of all children below the age of 18 in Nicaragua work or live in the streets - or both."


"22% of girls are married before the age of 18. However, this practice is completely legal, as the law allows marriage for girls over 12 years old, and boys over 14….On the other hand, Ecuador also has a high percentage of girls pregnant between the ages of 10 and 14. This is explained by the custom of families entrusting their girls to richer families or people, without any agreement or negotiations to ensure food and housing security…In Ecuador child trafficking is a particularly worrying and widespread phenomenon. Although the government is making efforts to eliminate this illegal practice, a great number of children continue to become caught up in networks that exploit them for commercial or sexual gain. Prostitution, pornography, begging and domestic servitude are just some examples of what children are forced into in Ecuador. Some parents go as far as selling their children to the traffickers which allows this inhumane and illegal practice to thrive.

Nearly 15% of births are not officially registered with the government. In recent years this figure has fallen significantly thanks to awareness raising campaigns about the dangers of non-declaration. Nevertheless, the percentage is still a cause for concern.

In 2005, 15% of infants and children under 5 were unrecorded at birth. This phenomenon leads to big difficulties, as these children will be considered invisible in the eyes of society and cannot, subsequently exercise their rights."

"College education is public in Ecuador. With even a few classes, job possibilities open up. In a developing country, the alternatives, especially for young girls, aren't good to say the least. Kids age out of the orphanage around 16 or 17 and are on their own. Even with "free" public college, or very affordable private colleges, those from the orphanage with not a penny to their name or family to help them are often unable to go to school and cover basic living expenses. Job availability without college education is very hard to find, especially for a young lady with no contacts so a college education is vital. Many in such situations around the world end up back on the streets they were rescued from as children, begging and working to survive in often deplorable situations."


"In January 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti and caused the death of an estimated 220,000 people. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes and are now living in provisional shelters or on the streets, waiting to be resettled. To make things worse, the earthquake was followed by a cholera epidemic, hurricane “Thomas”, and badly organised presidential elections that caused further chaos in the streets of Port-au-Prince.

The country's economy is in ruins and fully depends on international cooperation and aid. A drastic increase in migratory flows from Haiti to the Dominican Republic has been recorded since 2010…Children undoubtedly remain the most vulnerable section of Haiti's population after a disaster of such magnitude. They face trauma and severe psychological damage. As a result of the earthquake, thousands of Haitian children were orphaned or abandoned by their parents. Before the catastrophe, an estimated 440,000 children had been growing up without parental care. Presumably, this number has now risen even further.According to the United Nations, roughly 300,000 children in Haiti work in conditions similar to slavery. Most of them work as domestics for wealthier families where they frequently experience physical abuse. It has been reported that many of these children are forced to sleep outside, on a piece of cardboard. Those who do not work as domestics usually shine shoes, sell merchandise at traffic lights or are involved in commercial sex work. Less than two per cent of Haitian children ever complete secondary school."

So, you may ask, why do you work in Haiti, if the orphan crisis in America is so bleak? As bleak as it is in America, it is nearly hopeless in a place like Haiti. Without minimizing the challenges our aging out youth in America face, I want to make some comparisons:

American youth can easily earn a high school diploma by 18. They most likely will have access to financial aid for college. In Haiti, however, the average graduation age is 24 due to an educational system working against them. There is no system in Haiti to provide financial aid for those who desire higher education.

In America, if you want a job, and are willing to work hard, a job can usually be found. In Haiti, with an unemployment rate of nearly 50%, a corrupt system only provides jobs to those with connections. And orphans don’t have connections because they don’t have family.

So what happens to these young people aging out of Haiti’s debased system? Haiti doesn’t have a system like the US that can gather statistics, however, ask anyone who works or lives in Haiti and they will tell you. These aging out youth are homeless, stealing, prostituting, or dead before long. The result is often the same for those in America. However the youth in America are given a chance with an educational and employment system working for them, not against them.”

"While there is an abundance of orphanages in Haiti, there is a profound and growing need for transition programs to help kids successfully move from an orphanage into community, as responsible and functional adults. Because the government age limitation is 18, the majority of kids will not have finished high school by the time they are forced to age-out of an orphanage. This creates a significant problem, as kids are unable to finish school, transition to marketable jobs, and

ultimately tends to set them on a path of poverty.

The clock is ticking for the young men and women in the orphanages in Haiti. Due to government age limits, they “age out” on their 18th birthday, meaning they must leave the orphanage that has been their home, despite the fact that they have not finished high school by the time they are 18. This often means that these young men and women cannot complete their education, which in turn makes it difficult to get jobs and ultimately tends to spiral them onto a path of poverty.”

-Mission of Hope Haiti

When Knowledge is Not Wisdom

My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path.

When wisdom enters your heart, And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,

Discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you,

Proverbs 2:1-11

We live in an age where knowledge is everywhere. We can look something up and quickly find an answer. Having access to the internet and to books, living in a time where literacy is expected, this has opened so much opportunity, but we need to be mindful that this knowledge is not the same as wisdom.

One of the main reasons Empty Frames Initiative believes the church is made to address the needs of orphans is because the Lord has given wisdom on what our actions should be. Knowledge can be stored and set aside, wisdom is direction and purpose. It is often convicting. It is knowledge applied.

We can continue to accumulate this knowledge on orphans, more numbers and statistics may arise, more studies on the affect of being fatherless - but we know what the truth is. This world is broken and everyone in it is in need of a Savior. Everyone is in need of God the Father. We need wisdom on what to do with this information and how to show His love to this hurting world, how to follow the call to care for the Fatherless and the widow.

A promise we have been given in the Word is that when we seek the Lord, He will reveal Himself. If we ask for wisdom, if we seek it out, He will give us understanding. In Proverbs we are reminded to seek out counsel and to increase in learning (1:5). We are told that the instruction of parents is important to the parent as well as to the child (1:8, 10:1). While caring for the fatherless, let us be mindful that to be there for them and to provide counsel could be one of the most important roles we get to play in their lives. Let us not forget that we, too, need to be consistently seeking out wise counsel from the Lord.

As we close this series we want to be extremely intentional about asking for wisdom from the Lord, what His will is, how He would have us apply this knowledge in our lives.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

What can I do?

Go and see! Not specifically dedicated to orphan care, Envision is a trusted missions opportunity for those who feel called to serve the Lord in missions.

"Our Dream:

Helping people come alive as they follow Jesus.


Belief in the Church's Future

-The Church is vital to the gospel's sustainability & our continued growth.

Balance of Thought & Practice

-Experimentation without planning is foolish. Likewise, ideas without implementation is naive.

Risk Failure or Risk Irrelevance

-We would rather fail attempting great things than fall into complacency.

Gain Calling by Gaining Experience

-The best way to discover your calling & make a difference is to pursue experience."

Working in Colombia, Equador and Peru, InkaLink works in South America supporting projects that range from evangelism to indigenous empowerment. A ministry of theirs we would like to highlight would be Casa Elizabeth, a shelter they provide in Equador for teenagers with crisis pregnancies. With an average of over 16% of teenage girls in Ecuador facing unwanted pregnancies the need is great to provide hope and care so that these mothers are equipped and the babies are not abandoned.

“Inca Link International is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization focused on resourcing, enabling and empowering our national Inca Link organizations to reaching the 300 million youth in Latin America with Christ’s irresistible love.”

“ORPHANetwork rescues abandoned, abused, and orphaned children into partner orphanages, and prevents vulnerable children from becoming abandoned through the development of the local church. Through our partners, we create opportunities for new life, and share Christ with everyone we encounter.”

They offer opportunities to visit and serve at their facilities in Nicaragua, sponsor children and give to advance the cause.

Very similar to our hope for Empty Frames Initiative!

“​To provide life skills, professional skills, and education to young adults transitioning from an orphanage setting to prepare them to live independent and productive lives in Haiti. By the time a young adult transitions out of the Emmaus House and into Haitian society, it is anticipated that they will be able to function as an independent, educated young adult. They will have the skills needed to run a household, manage personal finances, work in a certain trade, or continue their education at the university level. To prepare youth to be followers of Christ and able to spread the gospel in Haiti. In addition, it is hoped that each young adult will be given the knowledge needed to become the next generation of leaders for the church in Haiti.

Growing up without the security of a family, along with being citizens of the poorest country in the world, the youth of Emmaus House would seem to have all odds against them. Emmaus House, however, aims to restore their hope while providing them the life skills, professional skills, and education they need in order to afford them the opportunity to be productive, working citizens and faithful followers of Christ. Formed in August 2013, Emmaus House has strived to raise up next generation leaders for Haiti one young adult at a time. “

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