March 23, 2011
Phnom Penh - The Cambodian government has started inspecting hundreds of orphanages after the UN children's agency UNICEF said it was worried children were at risk, in part from 'volunteer tourism.'
The Cambodia Daily newspaper reported Wednesday that a spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs had confirmed action commenced out of concern for children at orphanages.
'We are conducting the inspections because we don't know how the children are treated,' said spokesman Lim El Djurado, adding that those orphanages which fell short would be closed.
Earlier this week UNICEF said there were now 269 orphanages in Cambodia, almost double the number in 2005. The number of orphans had also risen to nearly 12,000 from 5,751 over the same period.
But nearly three-quarters of 'orphans' still had at least one surviving parent, which raised questions as to why so many children were being institutionalized.
UNICEF country head Richard Bridle told the German Press Agency dpa that just 21 orphanages were state-funded. The rest were predominantly 'overseas funded and faith-based.'
'Overseas donors are the main funders of residential care,' Bridle said. 'Many residential care centres have begun to turn to tourism to attract funders, and in doing so, are putting children at risk.'
Bridle said that so-called volunteer tourism, where foreign nationals help out at orphanages for a few days or weeks at a time during their travels, was problematic.
'Even with the best intentions, tourists and volunteers, who make significant contributions towards orphanages, are funding a system that is contributing to the separation of children from their families,' he said.
International studies have shown that care by a parent is far preferable to institutional care, and is also much cheaper.
Bridle said putting children in care 'should be a last resort.'
Rights organizations have long been concerned that some orphanages are simply thinly disguised businesses, allowing unscrupulous people to earn money from children.
Last week, the US special advisor for children's issues, Susan Jacobs, was in Cambodia to research whether the country's regulations were sufficiently stringent to allow inter-country adoptions to resume.
The US was among a number of Western nations that banned adoptions from Cambodia in 2001 after compelling evidence emerged that some children were being trafficked and sold to foreign parents.
Cambodia is looking to resume international adoptions in April under a new law that it says will accord with the Hague Adoption Convention.