For 49 years, child-sponsorship program Compassion International (CI) has been reaching impoverished children in India. As of this month that is no longer the case.
CI announced on March 15, 2017, it was incrementally withdrawing from the 145,000 child sponsorships and 344 local, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) it helped fund.
The decision stems from the actions of India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his regime. A part of the highly nationalistic, right-wing, pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi’s administration has specifically cracked down on funding that comes from foreign sources considered contrary to India’s national interests. In response, a bipartisan group of 107 U.S. members of Congress have written a letter to the Indian government requesting a temporary lift of the ban for CI.
“It is our sincere hope that this situation can be resolved quickly by your issuing a temporary reprieve,” the letter states. “This would allow Compassion International to process their wire transfers and keep their programs serving the Indian people operating until a more permanent solution can be found in accord with India’s laws.”
Since 2015, 10,000 non-governmental groups in India have been shut down due to the Modi administration’s actions. In a March 7 New York Times article, Chennai CI field officer Sam Jebagnanam described the searches as harrowing, with staff members questioned through the night and forbidden to leave the office, summon a lawyer or order food. In one specific instance, a staff member was interrogated until 3 a.m. over a Vacation Bible School program.
“They kept asking him: ‘Why did you have a spiritual component to the program? What do you do in the area of spiritual development?’” Jebagnanam said. “We said we teach moral values; we do not force anyone into religion.”
CI has attempted to appeal to the Indian government, but have largely been ignored or shuttled to non-governmental groups who have vague, if any, connections to the actual governmental process. In response, they are shutting down their 145,000 child sponsorships, informing 2,500 sponsors a day. Their hope is to transfer their India sponsors—which make up 8 percent of all sponsorships—to sponsor children from other countries.
Santiago Mellado, Compassion International’s chief executive officer, said this is a permanent solution that is “irreversible. We would have to start all over in India, and for 145,000 children, it will take years.”
Priya Saxena, 13, is one of the children impacted by the decision. In an interview with the New York Times she said her life was fundamentally changed by the vaccinations, education and nutritious meals she received.
“Now I do not know what the future holds for me,” Saxena said. “I hoped to become a doctor. But now that we are told we will no longer have sponsors to see us through the education, I don’t know what will happen. This place taught me to have a life. It is finished now.”
Despite the grim outlook Compassion leaders have on the appeal to the Indian government, one thing gives them hope: The 589 churches they have been able to invest in over the years. Mellado says, “I have hope because I know that, even after Compassion has left, those 589 Indian churches that are passionate about caring for children will still be there.”
For an official statement from Compassion International regarding their efforts in India, please see this blog post on their website.