Cambodia’s orphanages target the wallets of well-meaning tourists

This article of Robert Carmichael in Phnom Penh and published by Khmerization, calls the attention of how some persons live in Cambodia from charity and they are not precisely ‘Cambodians’ and not precisely ‘poors’… Let’s read it…

The Cambodian government has started inspecting more than 250 orphanages after it was revealed that most of the country’s 12,000 orphans have at least one living parent. The government said that until the assessment is completed, it had no idea whether the children were being cared for properly.

Aid groups suspect that those running homes for children are enticing more parents to give up their children with promises of food, shelter and, crucially in Cambodia, education. In return, those running orphanages can expect larger donations from charities and Western tourists, who are encouraged to visit homes.

Richard Bridle, the country representative of the UN children’s agency Unicef, said research had indicated 28 per cent of children in orphanages had lost both parents, raising the question about why thousands of others with at least one surviving parent were in institutional care. Unicef has also expressed concern at the near doubling of orphanage numbers from 153 to 269 in the last five years. Just 21 are state-run; the rest operate privately, and many of those are faith-based.

‘Overseas donors are the main funders of residential care, and many residential-care centres have begun to turn to tourism to attract funders, and in doing so, are putting children at risk,’ Mr Bridle said.

The rate of growth in the number of Cambodia’s orphanages over the past five years matches the increase in the number of tourists visiting the country during the same period. Visitors to Cambodia’s three main tourist areas – Phnom Penh, the temple city of Siem Reap and the beach resort town of Sihanoukville – are regularly bombarded with offers to visit private orphanages and donate money.

Guesthouses commonly display posters asking travellers to visit particular orphanages. One poster promoting an orphanage in Phnom Penh says people can help ‘in many different areas‘, from teaching English and playing with the children to donating food, toys, educational materials and cash. Another orphanage displayed the appeal: ‘Children in Cambodia need your help!’ Mr Bridle said even those tourists and volunteers who visited with good intentions were sustaining a system that was separating children from their families.

Although Unicef recognises orphanages had a place, institutional care should be a last resort, he said. It was far better for the children – and far cheaper – to have children looked after by a parent or in the community.
Sebastien Marot, the head of Friends International, a charity for street children, said orphanage tourism was simply a cynical marketing ploy that exploited children. ‘The system is very simple,’ he said. ‘You put a few poor-looking, sad-looking children in a centre and you try to attract tourists.’

The money that tourists leave typically did not benefit the children, because, ‘otherwise you’re breaking the business’, he said. ‘So the money goes elsewhere and the children are maintained in the situation of poverty, looking poor and so you attract more tourists and make more money.’

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10 thoughts on “Cambodia’s orphanages target the wallets of well-meaning tourists

  1. this is all good. everyone is correct because the situation is so complicated. loosen the definition of orphan or orphanage and that may help. that all of you are concerned and your intentions are fundamentally good is what counts. i’ve had thirty years working in the third world, including war zones. had kids die in my arms. easy answers? hell, i’m not sure of the right questions. get out there, get your “boots on the ground” and live with them for a month and your will understand beyond words and definitions. please do understand that all the professionals, doctors, teachers, directors, workers, everyone that gets out in the field gets frustrated and damaged, at times. and, sometimes, you have moments that you can never explain to anyone. i’ve met college kids that came out of war zones in the refugee camps 15-years AFTER i worked with them. not all ended up that well. not all money spent went well. but, sometimes……………..thats why you try

  2. You know it’s very easy to be critical & simplistic but when you have worked at the coal face – what is important is that the kids are safe, have a dry place to sleep, are well fed, have a happy place to live & an education to improve their future. I’m sorry but the rest pales into insignificance! Life is very harsh here.
    Give alcoholic parents rice to feed their families & they sell it for alcohol or gambling. Most of them have scrambled their brains & the children live in urine soaked smelling hovels with these crazy rambling parent or parents or Grandma – the children are terrified of them. You send them back to that – I certainly wouldn’t! Keep your high principles for the western world where there is a chance of them succeeding – survival is a raw necessity here! It’s such a pity we can’t help more – there are plenty of harrowing stories out there!

  3. “[O]rphanage tourism was simply a cynical marketing ploy that exploited children.”

    There are no doubt many well-intentioned people creating, opening, and managing children’s homes (aka orphanages).

    However, what does that say about the owner/manager if they are not willing to work with the community that the child is removed from? Even the Cambodian government has a policy that institutionalizing children should be the last resort.

    Not only that, but removing children from their home and family separates those close-knit ties and leaves them emotionally orphaned. It is rather insensitive and disrespectful of Cambodian culture to tear apart the family unit, which is the center of their universe. Will these children in the centers become permanent “orphans” because the ties with their families are severed?

    Additionally, what provisions are there for when the children become too old for center living? What is being done to help them transition back into their families or home environments?

    Next, what are the qualifications of these so-called orphanage owners/managers? Have they been properly trained in child development or social services? Do they understand basic accounting and financial management principles? What is their background in health, hygiene and nutrition?

    Finally, who’s screening these visitors to the “orphanages”? Is there no concern that an open door policy is actually more damaging to children by encouraging them to cling to total strangers who walk in one day and are gone the next? How can that be at all healthy in their development of meaningful relationships? Not only that, but allowing anyone to visit an orphanage just breeds this idea of “kiddie tourism” where children are within easy reach of paedophiles.

    I am certain there is also a strong correlation between the number of arrests of paedophiles and the number of orphanages over the years, just as the correlation between increased tourism numbers and orphanages.

    It’s time to RE-THINK the orphanage business and voluntourism business that feeds this unpleasant cycle.

  4. well, I find certain individuals at organizations like UNESCO and similar ones, with high salaries, just writing reports from the comfort of their air conditioning office in Phnom Penh, writing reports of realities they hardly face. Good to see Richard Bridle to come into the rural areas of Cambodia and see how children live.

  5. I’ve volunteered at a grass roots orphanage for 18 months now – there is a mix of kids who are all disadvantaged or orphaned. They were all starving without exception & are now safe, well fed & so eager to get an education. Would you deny them this & send them back to Grandma who cannot feed them or a drunken father who beats them & sends them out to work to keep him in alcohol or drugs – one boy had his father sell his sister to buy alcohol ? These kids now have hope & security of food & a wish to help others when they grow up & have imoroved lives thru this lovely genuine ‘home’

    • I totally Agree with you Shirely. There is plenty of good among the bad. Orphanages weren’t on the tour list, and he reluctantly introduced me to one, which is exactly the grassroots. The children are happy and smiling and clean; well-fed and getting a good education. This is a NGO and is privately run by very responsible people. My husband and I are happy to be a part of its continual upkeep.
      Children need to be continually encourage to attend school. It is free; however, they cannot attend if they don’t have a uniform.

  6. sorry sir, I have an orphanage in Cambodia and we have supported too many children and young people to have a good life by education. Many of them have parents, but they do not have the enough possibilities to give to their children the resources. What to do then? to send them away, home, just because they have a parent, even if that parent is on the streets????

    • well, don’t call it an ‘orphanage’ then, call it a center for support children of poverty. Orphanage is for children who are parentless, or not?

    • Well, why don’t you help the parents to take better care of THEIR OWN children then and for the children that have already left their families, try to reintegrate them?

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