Crackdown on bogus Cambodian orphanages

CAMBODIA launched a crackdown on bogus orphanages yesterday, many of which are set up to attract donations from tourists, with the aim of returning about 3,500 children who were not orphans to their families.

About 17 percent of Cambodians live below a national poverty line and some families who are too poor to look after their children send them to orphanages in the hope they will be taken care of.

Many orphanages have opened over recent years, some unlicensed, unsafe and with few real orphans, raising concerns about neglect and abuse.

The boom has matched a surge in foreign tourists to the Southeast Asian country, one of the world’s poorest.

Some social workers have appealed to tourists to stay away from orphanages saying that so-called orphanage tourism enables child exploitation.

“There are many abuses inside orphanages,” said Vong Sauth, minister of social affairs, said at the launch of the plan.

A recent government survey found 16,579 orphans living in 406 orphanages across Cambodia, far more than expected, officials said, adding that 38 percent of the orphanages had never been inspected.

Vong Sauth said 80 percent of the 16,579 children in orphanages were not actual orphans and under the government plan, 3,500 of them would be returned to their families by next year.

Sar Bunthoeun, director of Cambodian Children’s House of Peace, an orphanage in Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia, said he supported the government plan, adding that problems were common in some orphanages.

The children’s agency UNICEF, which is working with the government to reunite children with their families, said poverty should not be a justification for the removal of a child from parental care.

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