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Interview with J. K. Rowling. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 1, 2018 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: With a special edition of our show looking back at some of the highlights of the year. Tonight, my

conversation with J. K. Rowling, the must loved author of the Harry Potter series.

Twenty years after the publication of her very first book, she sat down with me here to talk about her remarkable life and she opened up about

something we rarely hear about, a cause close to her heart, helping millions of children all over the world get out of orphanages, that's

through her charity Lumos.


AMANPOUR: J. K. Rowling, welcome to the program.

J. K. ROWLING, AUTHOR OF HARRY POTTER SERIES: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: What is it that got you interested from the beginning, how did you decide that this was your mission.

ROWLING: Well, like a lot of people, I had no idea. I really had no idea about the scale of this problem and what drew me in was one child, it was a

news report about one child in the news paper. I was pregnant and therefore, perhaps particularly vulnerable and emotional to anything to do

with small children.

I was looking through the Sunday's paper and I saw a - still, I see it in my memory, it was a very disturbing image of a very small boy screaming

through chicken wire. And I went to turn the page, I'm not proud of it but I did go to turn the page and then I stopped and I thought, if the story is

as bad as the picture looks, then you have ot do something about it.

So I turned back and I read the story and the story was about an institution in the Czech Republic. Where this boy, among many other

children with special needs was being kept I would say at least 20 hours out of 24 in a cage bed which is exactly as it sounds. It's a cot for a

baby covered in mesh, covering in wire and that was his existence. From that, that's how it all began. I was just appalled and horrified.

AMANPOUR: And Lumos comes from where? Why Lumos?

ROWLING: Well it's a spell in Harry Potter, it's a bit corny.

AMANPOUR: It's not corny; it's what you're known for.

ROWLING: Well, it's funny because I wanted to call it Lumos and no one could think of anything better than that - that's' why Lumos, basically.

But it's a light giving spell so the metaphor is glaring elvis.

AMANPOUR: Happy Potter is an orphan, so it's kind of obvious that you're doing this, is it?

ROWLING: It wasn't obvious - it wasn't obvious to me at the time but to be very candid, I think I have - I think my worst fear; my personal worst fear

is powerlessness and small spaces. So when you think about that little boy trapped in the cage bed, he's totally voiceless and nobody was speaking for

him and I think that we all have something that touches us on a very visceral level.

I mean and I think that's mine, that's my thing.

AMANPOUR: And small spaces why?

ROWLING: I don't know why, I've always had that. and I think that just the idea that these children were being kept pinned like this was horrific

to me but then so, all though I think that's like Harry in his cupboard, I supposed why did I put Harry in the cupboard, because this is my fear of

being trapped and being powerless, just powerless to get out of that space.

Yes, on a very crude level, I think that news story tapped into something that I found personally horrifying.

AMANPOUR: This is Krushari, ones Bulgaria's largest and most notorious institution. With its long, dark, decaying corridors and its countless

cold, bare bedrooms. This is what many children once called home. It's where they lived and where many died.

Now, through the efforts of Lumos, Krushari has been shut down, the children helped into small group homes closer to their families where they

get individual care and attention. The opportunity to socialize and to plan for a future they may never have imagined.

Lumos works all over the world supporting children like those in Krushari providing them with an environment that is safe and caring. And as much as

possible Lumos wants to help children return home to the arms of those they love like Christina and Eger. They are siblings, both with disabilities.

With the support of Lumos, they've been reunited with their parents after years of living in a Moldovan orphanage. Now, for the very first time,

they're able to sit around the family table to enjoy each other's company and to finally experience the love they've been so tragically deprived of.

You're trying to deinstitutionalize them, right? The objective is to get these kids out of institutions.

ROWLING: Our ambition is to end child institutionalization by 2050, that's the ambition and -

AMANPOUR: All over the world?

ROWLING: All over the world, global.

AMANPOUR: How many kids are we talking about?

ROWLING: Well, that's a far more important question than many people will realize because we estimate there are eight million children in

institutions worldwide but that might be a low guess. So, one of our fundamental problems is we don't count all children. The moment the child

is separated from the birth mother, particularly in developing countries, it's very easy to lose track of them. And we know that around a million

children disappear in Europe every year. And the reality is that institutionalization in the U.K., in Canada, in the U.S. and Australia, we

stopped institute-institutionalizing our children, you know, over a century ago. We knew it was wrong but we've kind of forgotten when we get into the

impoverished countries and we keep setting them up again.

AMANPOUR: In the pictures of the report that I did from Romania near the Bulgaria border, I was stunned even, we're now talking 1990. I was a young

reporter. I wasn't a mother yet and I was stunned by all these little children coming up to me as if they'd never seen anybody give them any

affection or anything, like trying to hug me.


AMANPOUR: In the village of Negru Voda in Southern Romania stands yet another of Ceausescu's horrifying legacies. This is an asylum. It is

filled to overflowing with more than 200 mentally handicapped children, abandoned by parents who couldn't care for them an neglected by a state

that wouldn't for it considered these children useless even though many are victims of Ceausescu's own high birth rate policy which banned

contraception and abortion. In the months since the revolution, conditions have improved but they are still grim by any standard. There aren't enough

beds so the children are packed in two and three at a time. Some beds can't even be used because the mattresses are rotting.

There is just one nurse to ever 30 children and they are rushed off their feet just coping with the barest essentials. So the children often sit for

hours in their own urine and go unwashed for days because water is severely rationed. They've been neglected for so long that even a visit from a

reporter is a chance for some affection. The one doctor assigned to this asylum is a pediatrician untrained in psychiatric disorders. He is

fighting just to keep the children alive.

Before the revolution, three children would die every week because of the inhuman conditions here he says. Now things are better. We've had only

three deaths in the past five months. It's because we show more interest.

Dr. Iranchi (pf) teaches them to sing and dance and count. He has to keep them occupied as best he can because there are no rehabilitation programs

here. Most of the children just lie in bed day in and day out. There are hundreds of mentally handicapped children hidden away in asylums across

this country. Some foreign aid has been coming in as word of their plight gets out. But Romania is strapped for cash and Dr. Iranchi (pf) wonders

where these children rank on the new government's list of priorities. Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Negru Voda, Romania.


ROWLING: You know and I know and anyone who has been around children knows that the immediate impulse of a young child when they walk-see a stranger

walk into the house is weariness. That's, and that is correct behavior. It's normal human behavior. These children are so hungry and thirsty for

any kind of one-on-one attention that they will run and cling to total strangers and I've had, I've had that happen. I can remember being in an

institution where small shaven-headed children-so they're taken into this institution and their hair is shaven off because that's, you know, that's

difficult to deal with.

AMANPOUR: And lice and all the rest of it, yes.

ROWLING: But even when they're not, even when they're not in any way infested, their heads are shaven. It's almost punitive. You are now

number 23.

AMANPOUR: Institutionalized the real way.

ROWLING: Exactly. We have no time to brush your hair. We haven't got time to wash your hair. So I, I have literally have the experience of

being crawled over by shaven-headed little children and I can remember a little girl just crawling into my lap and holding me. And I did hug her

but I was heartbroken, just heartbroken by it. Part of you wants to just pick her up and go. Of course it does. That's your human reaction.

AMANPOUR: But you (inaudible) why?

ROWLING: Well it's a window into why the figures show us that these institutions are often centers of trafficking and horrendous exploitation.

And when you have witnessed the attachment disorders of these children, which have been brought about entirely by being institutionalized, you

realize just how vulnerable they are to unscrupulous people. And I think that for me, Lumos is about these children who, I mean I have heard

heartbreaking stories. I've met children and obviously I've visited institutions. I'm always hyper aware that when I visit the institution,

I'm seeing the best of the best, you know, and even then I've seen horrible, horrible things.

Well I've visited an institution of which the staff are enormously proud and there were three children with cerebral palsy lying together on a

single bed and that was their life. No stimulation...

AMANPOUR: Yes. Tied, practically, to the bed.

ROWLING: Actually yes, yes. I was told one of the things that I still have difficulty talking about without crying, the nurse there told there

was a little girl on the ward and I think she had spin bifida, but I don't -- I can't quite remember, I think she did, but there was absolutely no

mental impairment is the point of this story and she used to ask for her mother. And she knew her mother was out there.

Now, the culture in some of these counties is, give us your disabled child, go away, it's best you don't think about it. Go away and try and have a

healthy baby, but this little girl had love to give and she never saw her mother.

Her mother never came and the nurse told me that she sometimes left the institution and phoned the ward and pretended to be the little girl's

mother and that would keep the little girl going for a month.

I know, it's bad, it's very bad. So you hear quite a lot of these stories. I mean I -- and as I emphasis that I haven't seen, because the won't let me

see the worst, but of course the people who are working at Lumos Center are extraordinarily chaired.

Georgette Mulheir, she has seen the worst of the worst of the worst of the worst and some of the things she tells me, I just -- it's mind blowingly

awful. But my husband, very recently, went to Moldova on a fieldtrip, I was -- I can't phone myself and I needed to do a screenplay and Neil, who

is a doctor, said I'll go, I'll go to Moldova, I'll have a look at what's going on.

And I thought, oh that would be amazing, that would be so good. Anyway, he told me that he went into a room in this institution and he saw a little

boy, sort of this long, propped up on a chair, who clearly had multiple physical issues and Neil said to me, he was suffocating.

And I said, what do you mean he was suffocating? And he said, well I could tell that he couldn't breath and he had a jaw malformation. Well, Neil's a

doctor and so he made a beeline for this boy and he manipulated his jaw so the boy could breath, I mean not...

AMANPOUR: I know, you mean it opens his -- yes.

ROWLING: ...and he said this little boy beamed at him and Neil though he must be five years old or so and he turns to the nurse, and through an

interpreter said, how old is he and how does he normally breath?

And she said, well normally he lies face down all day with his head sort of hanging over the edge of the bed. That brings his jaw forward so he can

breath, but obviously because the visitors that come, they've put this poor boy into clothes and propped him up and he's slowly suffocating in a

corner. And then you -- and then she says, oh and he's 15.


ROWLING: And he was -- and we find this constantly with institutionalized children, but they are not physically well, they haven't grown properly and

sometimes, and I don't think it's even a conscious thing, you often find that children are underfed because it keeps them portable and small.

Neil was pretty upset when he came home and told me all about him. And he said, I don't think he's going to make it. But, he did make it. We got

him into a hospital. So...

AMANPOUR: You started this really tragic story, which has a good ending, saying that you couldn't go because were writing a script.

ROWLING: I'm on the second screenplay for the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise. And no one else can write that, I'm writing it. I am a

screenwriter, so we're about to start filming, so I really needed to be on the screenplay.

AMANPOUR: Is it great?

ROWLING: Oh it's -- I can't say whether it's great or not, it's -- I'm enjoying it, I'm really enjoying it.

AMANPOUR: So I asked you because I wonder what it's like to be doing that one day and then to be in this area of extreme abnormality and need and

poverty and sadness. Is it weird to...

ROWLING: No, it's not weird. It's not weird, no. I love writing. We all know I don't actually need to write anymore. That's a given. I write

because I just love writing. It gets me up everyday. I would be writing no matter what.

But, I suppose I've always had this other side to me that really wants to - - I used to work for Amnesty International, I've always had this side of me that just wants to try and make a difference. And like many, many people

in the world, I would like to make a difference.

And I feel that I am really privileged, because apart from -- where I'm personally privileged, but I can actually now make a much bigger

difference. But, I want to do it in a meaningful way and one of the things that Lumos has taught me is, be very, very careful how you do it, because

even if you're giving with the best of intentions, you may inadvertently be doing harm.

AMANPOUR: And you mean from a well meaning donors?

ROWLING: Very, very, very well-meaning donors who are inadvertently propping up a system that we know we have nearly 100 years of hard research

that shows that even a well-run institution, even an institution set up with the best possible intentions will irrevocably harm the child.

AMANPOUR: So what is it that you can do? What does your money, the fund raising -- what is the mission? I mean what, 8 million kids are somehow

going to be taken where?

ROWLING: Right. Exactly. Absolutely. This is the key question. So the -- possibly the most staggering figure in all of this is that we know at

least 80 percent of these aren't orphans.

AMANPOUR: They're not orphans?

ROWLING: Exactly. Now this is -- this is mind-blowing to most people. The -- you know, it's in the name, right? These are orphanages. Except

they're not. We know that 80 percent of these children have at least one living parent who -- who -- and overwhelmingly, the parent didn't want to

give the child up. So why are they in the institution? Grinding poverty. Over -- that's the number one reason.

And then you have an inability to access education or social care or health support, medical care outside an institution. So you have a lot of

children with special needs or physical, mental handicaps. And then lastly, natural disasters. So obviously in the wake of hurricanes,

earthquakes, orphanages tend to spring up and then not go.

AMANPOUR: And so what do you do?

ROWLING: Right. So the number one thing is we -- every country's different, because you're working with a very different culture and you're

working with a different government. Number one, how do we reunite children with their parents. That's the number one goal, get them back to

families that want them. This is do-able because it is 10 times cheaper to put a child, even with special needs, back into their family than to keep

them in the institution.


ROWLING: It's 10 -- so when you donate, if you are donating to charities and NGOs that support community care, community education, you are keeping

children in their families, you're keeping families together, which is infinitely better...


AMANPOUR: the family. (ph)

ROWLING: Right. So we're giving -- not even directly to the families. Often, the family themselves need -- might need daycare. So we will

repurpose the institution for a daycare center, but the child's going home every night. And the institution is often a major local employer. So many

people who are not bad people have huge vested interest in keeping the institution going.

We can retrain these people, district nurses, social workers and carers and foster carers and so forth. We have retrained -- so far, Lumos has

retrained 30,000 professionals across 34 countries. And we've got 18,000 children out of institutions. There are cases where a child can't go home.

We estimate 20 percent are orphans. We would firstly look in the extended family. Can we support the grandmother or the aunt to take the child.

AMANPOUR: And are they happy to take them?

ROWLING: Overwhelmingly, yes. But, because the poverty is the thing that overwhelmingly has driven the child into the institution, they need -- we

need to support them and their community.

AMANPOUR: Are you welcomed with open arms or are people looking at this do-gooding, really famous, you know, writer and thinking, "What is she

doing with our kids"?

ROWLING: The important thing to know about Lumos is we are not marching in there, ever, and saying, "Watch us. Watch us sort out this problem".

There are -- in every singly country we're working, there are experts on the ground, native speakers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers

who know the system's wrong. But we can go in and support them financially and with expertise to make the change.

We run projects to show how we can de-institutionalize, close institutions. So we're always working with the -- with the culture and with people from

that particular country. Be it Moldova, we're currently doing some with the U.N. in Ethiopia with child refugees in Ethiopia. We're in Haiti,

we're working in Colombia and we've been invited in by Russia and Ukraine to look at their systems of care. And...

AMANPOUR: Because those are pretty bad.

ROWLING: They are bad. Eastern Europe had a -- in Europe, Eastern Europe had a particularly shocking history of child institutionalization. Moldova

-- I do want to say this because I'm very proud of this -- we have led the closure of 80 percent of institutions in Moldova.

AMANPOUR: That's pretty remarkable.

ROWLING: Yes. And we're -- we're very proud.

AMANPOUR: And you have all this sort of accountability and all those things in place. Yes.

ROWLING: Oh, completely. And I would say that if -- if anyone after watching this program did want to donate, I have covered all call costs.

So any money given to Lumos will go into the field. A lot of the solution is donate differently and volunteer differently. That's a huge message I

would like to get out to, you know, my people, the people who grew up with Harry Potter who are now all in their 20's.

Volunteering is an amazing thing. But volunteer in the right way. And volunteering in an orphanage is not a good thing to do.

You're propping up a system and unfortunately little (ph) though (ph) you might want to believe it, one of the reasons institutions are set up is

bring foreign money into the country in the form of donations but also in the form of volunteers, wealthy, western volunteers who are also bringing

currency in.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about your project in Ethiopia I think it was.


AMANPOUR: Ethiopia has to deal a lot with refugees.

ROWLING: Right. So it's a -- we're collaborating there with the U.N. working with child refugees. That's right (ph).

AMANPOUR: I mean, this -- this is a crazy crisis.

ROWLING: It's huge. It's massive. And again, we were talking off camera about what even (ph) has happened in Callah (ph), where children have been

separated from their biological families which makes them unbelievably vulnerable. It just makes them so vulnerable.

They're physically vulnerable, they're mentally vulnerable, they're at risk of abuse, exploitation, trafficking. So yes, the refugee -- this is a

huge, huge issue. And I'm personally I'm trying to help in a number of different ways. But the key thing is going to be governmental -- the U.K.

government used to take more children --


AMANPOUR: -- records --

ROWLING: -- help that happen. What do I think of?

AMANPOUR: The record of the U.K. government and refugees.

ROWLING: It's -- we all know it's -- it's really poor. They promised to - -

AMANPOUR: What's going to change it?

ROWLING: -- very small number. Well in a democratic society, very, very often we find politicians are led by the public rather than the other way

around. So what needs to happen I think is for the public to -- the public need to want (ph) them in. And the answer to that is not simple because we

-- as we know we have newspapers who are (inaudible) refugee.

AMANPOUR: We know also amongst the refugee population, even in France and Callah (ph) kids are disappearing.

ROWLING: Exactly right. We know that after the earthquake in Nepal (ph), we know that people calling themselves aid workers descended and we know

that children disappeared. Now this is something that is so horrendous to think about that a lot of people don't want to look at it.

They don't -- they don't even want to believe it because let's face it, the ideas of -- of -- of a pedophile or a trafficker or -- I mean, it human

trafficking whether you're buying papers (ph) or simply taking children to exploit. I mean, institutions are often set up as money magnets. Children

are deliberately kept hungry, the photographs are pathetic, very effecting. And this brings in money.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you, you know, one of the things we all learned about, you was that you wrote your book sitting in a cafe...

ROWLING: Which is true.


ROWLING: I know, it's become a semi miss but it's true.

AMANPOUR: But you've also said that one of your proudest moments or your thing that you're proudest of is being a single mom.

ROWLING: Yes. I am. Absolutely. Yes.

AMANPOUR: And why were you so proud?

ROWLING: Well I was proud because I think -- I think at the time when I said that I was proud, so I would say it's probably 97, 98 and I gave

interview and I was asked about how I had written the book and I told the true story. And I think I was a little punchy at that time.

And wanting to make an assertive point about single parenthood. Because I had -- had Jessica (ph) my oldest daughter at a time when were being quite

stigmatized. I think we are now remarried obviously, but I feel solidarity with women raising children on their own.

AMANPOUR: I've read that you were considering writing a political book for children, young people.

ROWLING: Oh, that was a fairy tale. Yes. And I ended up -- I don't know whether I'll ever publish that, but I -- I will tell you this, my 50th --

the theme of my 50th birthday which I held at Halloween even though that's not really my birthday, was come as your own private nightmare.

And I went as a lost manuscript. And I wrote over a dress, most of that book. I wrote it. So that book I don't know whether it will ever be

published, but it's actually hanging in a wardrobe currently.

AMANPOUR: This is J.K. Rowling scoop. I'm sorry. There's a hidden book somewhere.

ROWLING: We're talking about a lot of grim stuff so I thought I'd throw in something fun, you know.

AMANPOUR: And J.K. Rowling. Why the initials?

ROWLING: Oh, because my publisher, my -- who published Harry Potter, they said to me, we think this a book that will appeal to boys and girls. And I

said, oh great. So could we use your initials? Because basically they were trying to disguise my gender.


ROWLING: And obviously that lasted about three seconds because -- which is wonderful, I'm certainly not complaining. But book won an award and I got

a big advance (inaudible). So I wasn't -- I was out --


ROWLING: Well look that's right, I quite like J. K., I think I wouldn't have chosen it, it's -- and I wouldn't have chosen it for that reason

either, but I was so grateful to published if they told me to call myself Rupert, I probably would have done it to be honest with you but now I

actually quite like having a pen name because I feel to an extent that feels like an identity and then I'm in private life I'm Jo Murray and it

feels like quite a nice separation.

AMANPOUR: Well, Jo Murray, J. K. Rowling, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

ROWLING: It's been an absolute pleasure, thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.

ROWLING: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And that's it for our special edition tonight, my interview with J. K. Rowling. Remember you can always listen to our podcasts, see us on-

line at and follow me on Facebook and Tweeter. Thanks for watching and good bye from London.