The Biannual Conference on Alternative Care (BICON) is an inter-agency cooperation of eight leading international NGOs focused on alternative care for children. Since 2014, BICON has been a leading conference focusing on the rights of children and young people without parental care (CWPC) in Asia.
The 5th BICON took place in Kathmandu, Nepal, over two days in September, and it was a remarkable event that showcased the collective efforts and commitment to care reform in Asia.
MJF was pleased to support the conference and have two staff members (Louise Cox, International Programme Manager and Seema Naaz, Practice Development Coordinator) attend in person. Seema shares her reflections from BICON below.
It was a sincere pleasure to attend BICON 2023, which served as a pivotal regional advocacy platform, uniting stakeholders from various countries, all committed to enhancing the lives of children through advocating for deinstitutionalization and family-based alternative care. From advocates to policymakers from countries like India, Indonesia, and Japan, participants shared insights and experiences, fostering a collaborative spirit and solidarity. The event’s mission was clear: championing regional care reform and urging governments to prioritize family-based care. This dedication highlighted the collective belief in ensuring every child’s right to a nurturing family environment.
The first day of the conference was dedicated to fostering momentum for Care Reform throughout Asia. Engaging discussions spanned a spectrum of critical themes, encompassing Foster Care, Kinship Care, Community Approaches and Support, the welfare of children with disabilities, the imperative for care reform, and the interplay of culture and identity.
As the conference transitioned into its second day, the spotlight shifted towards providing a platform for young people with lived experience of care (sometimes called care leavers) to share their perspectives. Thought-provoking conversations delved deep into well-being and mental health, implementing systemic approaches to drive Care Reform, harnessing the transformative potential of data, and presenting key recommendations stemming from the rich discourse at BICON 2023.
One of the most distinctive and inspiring aspects of BICON 2023 was its emphasis on including young people with lived experience as experts in the discussions. This approach added depth and authenticity to the conversations and empowered those who have directly experienced alternative care to actively shape policies and practices. The emphasis placed on the voices of those with lived experiences was best encapsulated by Birendra Shahi’s poignant quote:
“We are the Story. We are the Truth. We are the Evidence.”
Care leavers highlighted several crucial aspects concerning voluntourism during the conference. These included concerns about the lack of ‘informed consent’ when volunteers and staff visit orphanages to take pictures for fundraising purposes and share them with donors. There was also a focus on the psychological impact on children resulting from interactions with new people/volunteers, the attachments formed with them, and the sudden loss of contact. One care leaver even likened the experience in an orphanage to a ‘human zoo.’
The conference also emphasized the significance of aftercare services and programs, underscoring the vulnerability of children and young people leaving care. They require substantial support when transitioning from a care facility to an unfamiliar world. Additionally, it sheds light on the challenges care leavers face after turning 18 and reintegrating into society. A noteworthy aspect of the conference was its strong emphasis on preserving the right to culture and identity, especially considering the long-term goal of providing alternative care that leads to reunification. It emphasized the importance of recognizing that each individual is shaped by their culture and religion. Therefore, every child should have the opportunity to learn and practice their culture, staying connected to their roots even while in care, as they are destined to return to their society once they leave institutional care.
This BICON represents a significant step toward improving the lives of young children, care leavers, and their families. Its effects will ripple out and make a substantial impact in the future. As Albert Justin, Youth Ambassador from the Miracle Foundation, India, aptly said,
“I know I can’t change any care leaver’s past, but my initiative will change their future.”
In conclusion, a compelling statement that encapsulates the key insights from the conference is:
“Care reform is incomplete without the input of those with care experience!”
In summary, BICON 2023 was not just another conference but a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change in family-based alternative care for children and youth in Asia. It reinforced the importance of collaboration, inclusivity, and the power of lived experience in driving forward the cause of children’s rights and care reform. As the outcomes and discussions of this conference continue to resonate, it is clear that Asia has solidified its place in the global discourse on these vital issues, with BICON at the heart of this transformative journey.
To access the forthcoming BICON report and get updates about BICON 2025, please visit https://bicon.asia.