New Internationalist

Simply… Why You Should Not Sponsor A Child

April 1989

new internationalist
issue 194 - April 1989

Simply... Why you should not sponsor a child.

You might want to help a poor child in the Third World.
But sponsoring them is not the best way. Here is an NI
summary of the disadvantages of child sponsorship. Not all of
these criticisms apply to every agency. But all sponsorship
programmes have at least some of these defects.

Illustrations: Jim Needle

[image, unknown]



Focusing on individuals often means that aid agencies arbitrarily single out children or families for preferential treatment. The chosen few may receive extra food, education, clothes, medical treatment and gifts which others do not. Brothers, sisters or other families become jealous. And parents can feel humiliated because outsiders are providing things which they cannot - or frustrated that only one of their children receives help.



[image, unknown]

The way in which a child or family is chosen for sponsorship may reflect the political orientation of the aid agency involved rather than the needs of the child. In order for a child to qualify its parents may have to cease certain forms of political or religious activity - or the child may be pressured to take up activities like reading the Bible. This conditional giving violates the rights of the child to choose its own beliefs.


[image, unknown]



The sponsored child is constantly reminded that they are the 'poor relation'. They must always be prepared to show gratitude to the 'rich cousins' on whose charity they depend. The best aid projects foster initiative and enterprise in those they help. Sponsorship programmes always run the risk of fostering dependence.


[image, unknown]




The exchange between child and sponsor can be culturally insensitive to the child's way of life. Children may know nothing about Christmas, say, but find themselves encouraged to send Christmas cards. Imagine you were a Christian and a wealthy Arab sponsored your child and sent them presents and pictures of their sumptuous lifestyle along with a copy of the Koran to read.




[image, unknown]

Sponsorship schemes claim to offer cultural interchange between donor and child. But this is generally very limited. Letters from child to sponsor are usually censored to remove requests for money, complaints from disillusioned families and all mention of politics. Professional letter-writers and translators are sometimes used to handle the correspondence - or staff may dictate letters to children according to a sample provided in a manual. The donor finds out little about the child or its culture.


[image, unknown]


Programmes which give education to individual children can isolate them from family and friends. They are educated to uselessness, unable to obtain well-paid white-collar work in their own towns or village and unwilling to do low paid 'menial' labour. As adults they either remain at home dissatisfied, or take their skills further afield, away from the community that needs them.


[image, unknown]


Child sponsorship programmes can create unfulfillable desires and expectations. A child who learns of a sponsor's large house and reads about their skiing holidays or big cars can become dissatisfied with his or her own community and want to be taken away to that affluent world.


[image, unknown]



Child sponsorship programmes are enormously expensive to administer. The letters, photos and reports prepared for sponsors are costly and time-consuming. It is sad that so much must be spent for the benefit of the donor rather than the child.


[image, unknown]



Child sponsorship advertisements distort our image of the Third World and perpetuate many negative stereotypes. Children are depicted in deprivation and degradation, as passive victims whose parents are unable to cope. All we see usually is one poor helpless child or family; we are never offered explanations of the causes of their poverty.



previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page

This feature was published in the April 1989 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Never miss another story! Get our FREE fortnightly eNews

Comments on Simply... Why You Should Not Sponsor A Child

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Joy-Mari 08 Oct 10

    So most of the reasons are to do with the sponsorship programme. We can work with these and encourage (demand!) sponsorship programmes change for the better.

  2. #3 Bel 22 May 11

    I sponsored a child for a year and became greatly dissappointed at the way the organization handled the ’business’. I received TONS of spam letters that were mere publicity about the org, not even reports about my particular child, I received constant letters requesting more money for gifts and stuff, I sent her the gifts which she NEVER mentioned in her letters, so how would I know she ever received the clothes the org said they would send in my behalf? and what disgusted me the most was the disrespect for their cultural identity, why would a hindi child be involved in stuff like christmass or thanksgiving? the whole thing reminded me of the missionaries with the american indians, trying to transform their culture thinking that would improve their lives. I am really really sorry about the child, she is just a tool that gets money for the organization's interest.

  3. #4 Steven 02 Jun 11

    So what do we do????
    You have given us reasons not to sponsor children. So we keep the money and spend it on ourselves. It’s easy to sit back and criticise. Why not come up with some alternatives.

  4. #5 Tom Ash 02 Jun 11

    It's not a direct equivalent to child sponsorship, but your money would do vastly more good (for both children and adults) if you gave it to one of the [a href=’’]charities recommended by Giving What We Can.

  5. #6 mporter 06 Oct 11

    I understand the concerns but I believe child sponsorship changes lives and creates opportunity. I have been to visit my sponsor child and have seen 1st hand the difference that sponsorship has made in her life. Unfortunately her brother is not yet sponsored so he does not receive the benefits she does BUT she is always sharing and helping out her family. Not only that but with the added benefit of education she will be able to improve her community and take care of her family. I am changing a child's life forever. It is hard to help without hurting but I believe that child sponsorship can be done in a wonderful way. Go visit a program and then decide how it affects a child and their community. I sponsor through Children of The Nations

  6. #7 terry 10 Nov 11

    What is the point of the article? From the opening statement one would think that the author had intentions to provide better alternatives to sponsoring a child.

  7. #8 steven 24 Jan 12

    You have really done these findings,which is a very good job i should recommend. But to conclude that we should stop sponsoring children that will be a bad thing, i should put in this way i guess.

    Helping some Bondy especially a child is a very good idea since it is like building the foundation of the house we are living together, which is the world.

    If we can leave the children suffer as they are to day, what do you expect the future of tomorrows world? Its just an fortunate that when others want to sponsor they attach some strings, let us just do it for the will of GOD.

    I have seen living examples of children who have been sponsored academically they are now employed, employers,doing hot businesses and being good leaders managers,administrators,accountants and they are also supporting their families, community,Nation and the worlds at large

    Children suffer a lot world wide, some problems being influenced by elders, like wars, trafficking Child labor and many more.

    I must strongly say that, we must continue sponsoring children.though we meet with ups and downs, since the majority of them orphans due to HIV/AIDS that has affected the world we are in.

  8. #9 Biplab Sikdar 05 Mar 12

    good justification for not sponsoring a child - but not all the social welfare organisation are same - some are there on this world who are tactfully doing all the noble work while avoiding all of the points for not sponsoring a child - Amen !!

  9. #10 Hamilton 27 Feb 13

    I happen to work for a child sponsorship agency and I know firsthand that the children are being helped and their lives are very much improved because of sponsorship. Not just for the child, but for the whole family. If you question the integrity of the company, please look over their anuual report, which shows where the money is going. Most of these companies have strict financial procedures they have to go through to stay legitimate.

  10. #11 Leah 17 Apr 13

    I don't think that this is entirely fair to say. Not all organizations are solely focused on helping the children, but are there to make a profit. By researching organizations further, you will find that there are some excellent organizations out there that truly are dedicated to helping children and their communities. And there is no harm in a child getting a taste of a different culture, and vice versa for us. This could change a child's life and give them hope.

  11. #14 Dawn Leonard 26 Sep 13

    These points were so ignorant of what is actually done by credible Non Profit Organizations, that it is laughable. They seem to be drawn from imagination and not reality. I sponsor three, and have travelled to meet one. I spent time within the community that is developed through sponsorship, as well as the school he attends. The organization I sponsor with, World Vision, is in its 60th year. Only 5% of my donation goes to admin. costs! Education is what enable a child to have HOPE and a FUTURE. To educate girls in developing countries, protects them, decreases the likelihood of early marriage, and early pregnancy. This article is racist in that it makes racist assertions that people from developing countries cant handle their education, move to locales to use their skill, or perhaps use their skill to improve their home countries. So much was wrong with the above statements that I don't want to take time to point out ALL the errors, but they are ALL flawed. The illustrations are hideous!

  12. #15 Zik 12 Dec 13

    Great stuff here very enlightening

  13. #16 James87 20 Jan 15

    Some interesting points, but any good, trustworthy sponsorship program will be able to negate the possible negatives by helping families and communities (not just the sponsoree) and cultivating an exchange of culture rather than forcing a Western view.

    Worth noting is the only credible research on the topic to date (this article seems heavily based on a brainstorm of the author) emphatically emphasized the benefits of child sponsorship programs:

  14. #17 Michele Plotts 03 Mar 15

    Thank you for this insight. I'm glad I researched sponsoring before I made a commitment.

  15. #18 Michelle Wilkie 09 Mar 15

    This article is awful. I am one of those sponsored children. Went to the US from Belfast and it was one of the most magical and wonderful experiences of my life.

  16. #20 Cameron 25 Jun 15

    You tell people not to sponsor children but for those who want to help those in need you offer no resolution. What is the best way to give for those who are willing?

  17. #21 Chuck Hudson 08 Jul 15

    So, I guess people should do nothing!?!? The reasons listed WHY NOT to sponsor a child are insignificant in comparison with doing NOTHING. I am a Christian and if my family were to fall on hard times and a Muslim, Hindu, or even an athiest wanted to help be it. If those families wanted to send us a copy of the Koran, Vedas, The God Delusion, and/or cards/letters emphasizing their faith (or lack thereof) I can accept/reject it all. The rejection MAY come with a lack of future support, but all choices in life have consequences. I would personally want to help any child regardless of faith/belief but I will not criticize an organization who sends relief and workers to areas of the world I cannot be, to help others AND in the process wants to share their views with the people they help. Our culture has become WAY TOO ’PC’ and WAY TOO many people sit back and criticize but do little to nothing to ease suffering in our world. If you feel convicted to give to or sponsor a child/family, do the research on the organization your giving to and proceed with doing good for others. The world will be a better place because of YOU.

  18. #23 USJoe Freedom 12 Nov 15

    This is the biggest bunch of liberal garbage I have ever seen. I have personally delivered and seen how these children's lives are affected when we bring those boxes of love to them. Keep your liberal hate and stupidity to yourself and leave those that wish to help others alone.

  19. #24 Ashley 13 Nov 15

    #1 Reason to toss this article in the theoretical TRASH

    tHIS HAS TO BE QUITE LITERALLY the worst article I have ever read. Aside from being poorly written, it does the very thing a journalist is supposed to avoid when covering a topic, it gives the writer a stronger voice than his story.
    You have offered absolutely ZERO statistics, facts, studies, or even ideas to back up your theories. You have no proof to substantiate your claim. You spout off about all the horrors that child sponsorship brings, but you offer not ONE example. Are we the reader supposed to just take your word for it? Who are you to us but a by line?
    These children are being depicted as porr suffering and deprived because they ARE these things. You say that child sponsorship will cause the child to become too goal oriented causing them to leave behind a community that needs them most... I am sorry but would you say that to a child growing up in a ghetto community in America? Sorry son, dont go to college because your friends in the projects need you here more? What ignorance in that very sentence!!

    BEWARE do gooders, if you sponsor a child, they might have the audacity to learn to red and become a doctor one day!! They might even move into a house with a real roof and a bathroom!!! This is horrific to read!! I cannot imagine that there is still a person alive that thinks its okay for a child to suffer because of circumstance.

    Now, I have no doubt in my mind that what you meant to do with this article was to try and start a discussion and that you probably thought you were doing something good by pointing out all the bad sides to child sponsorship. And, I must say, I dont agree with some of the concepts behind many of the programs out there. There are many that re strictly out to make a dollar by exploiting these children. But it is the job of the person wanting to sponsor to do their due diligence and research the organization before commitment.

    Your article serves only one purpose, and that is to give people permission to do nothing. The audience that stumbles upon your article is the audience that is doing an internet search on which organization to go through or the person who is trying to gather information about specific programs. These are people who are trying to decide if sponsorship is something they can afford. You are offering a cheap excuse for them to use this money on a latte rather than to feed a child!!! May God have mercy on you...

  20. #25 Chris Giovagnoni 19 Nov 15

    I work at Compassion International, a child sponsorship organization, and I don't consider the items listed as reasons not to sponsor a child. I consider them as risks to consider when choosing a child sponsorship program to partner with. They are topics a person should address before committing any money.

    The effectiveness of Compassion's international child sponsorship has been validated through independent, empirical and peer-reviewed research conducted in 2008 by Dr. Bruce Wydick, a professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, and two colleagues. The research was published in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Political Economy.

    In the February 2012 issue of Christianity Today, Dr. Wydick ranked child sponsorship as the fourth most effective way to fight poverty, behind getting clean water to rural villages, funding de-worming treatments for children and providing mosquito nets. The article is titled Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor.

  21. #26 Cocoa 09 Dec 15

    I read this article with interest because it affects me. I have been sponsoring a child via Save The Children for about 2 years. What dismays me is that I receive more advertisements and phone calls asking for additional money than ever before. I think STC gave out my unlisted phone number. (I looked into this and it's legal for an organization to do this if you have established a relationship with them.) Anyway, I feel like my monthly donation is mostly spent on these mailings and calls. How much is really left to help the child and her family and community? Also, a new photo of the child was sent to me and she looks thinner than she did two years ago. Her eyes are now teary-looking. She does not appear happy. I write her cheery letters with coloring books, crayons, stickers--things she can share with playmates. I would love to send her a pretty dress or something beyond stickers, but I am not allowed to. I am prevented from ever knowing her full name. This is so that if I cease sending donations, I will never be able to find her again. This keeps Save The Children in full control at all times. They say it's for her protection (and mine) but I don't believe it. Sometimes I think about stopping the automatic donations, but I have read it takes an act of God to get the organization to cooperate with that. (If you cancel your credit card, STC has been known to learn the new account number and continue receiving donations!) After all, their sending you letters (written by the local reps) is meant to get you emotionally involved so that you never stop providing money. (Sponsors would hate disappearing without an explanation to the child.) Sponsorship has turned out not to be very satisfying. I have no way of knowing if my contributions help the child or not. I think, in the back of my mind, that I would like to help pay for her education when she is older, but I don't see how that could happen with Save The Children always in full control (I can only contact her via them.)

  22. #27 Nia 22 Jan 16

    Something is better than nothing besides what are we to do other than caring about someone else? Is that not what charity is for?

  23. #28 Carrie Emery 16 Mar 16

    This is the most ignorant thing I have ever read. So it is better for the child to remain uneducated and not properly fed? What a bunch of garbage.

  24. #29 sponsor 05 Jun 16

    You are saying not to sponsor kids because it singles some out and improves their lives with education and healthcare? I say, if you cannot save the one child. I sponsor 8 kids and it is a WONDERFUL experience. I am tired of hearing about the reasons not to sponsor. Sadly most countries make it impossible to adopt and very expensive...and there are so many open homes in the USA. At least I can sponsor kids. Cut the red tape. Sponsoring kids is a win win situation. There would not be so much overhead costs if the organizations were not so crazily involved in the letters. I can handle reading a letter without it being censored, thank you. If my child asks for money, I am an adult.

  25. #30 Andulamb 26 Dec 16

    Your very first point is completely wrong. That's how sponsorship programs USED TO work. Now, most sponsorship programs provide support to entire communities, including kids who aren't ’sponsored’. The sponsored kids are just the public faces of the program. They exchange letters with their sponsor and may receive SMALL gifts (like bookmarks), but you're off your rocker if you think the sponsored kids sit around eating cake while their brothers and sisters starve. If you're going to criticize something, you should at least try to be informed.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Features

All Features

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 194

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.