ABC Radio Australia
The Cambodian government has taken aim at orphanages that exploit children for funding or fail to institute minimum standards of care.
In a progressive new policy, welcomed by social welfare groups, the government is moving toward alternative options for "at risk" children emphasising the role of family.
Presenter: David Boyle, Phnom Penh
Speakers: Chuu, autistic child; child carer; Ith Sam Heng, Cambodia's social affairs minister; Richard Bridle, country representative of UNICEF; Sarah Chhin, program manager with International Cooperation Cambodia
BOYLE: Chuu is an autistic child living with a defacto carer who pulled her out of a Cambodian orphanage after discovering the centre had no understanding of her condition.
CARER (English with French accent) : They used the fact that you know, Chuu's mum was lost, really lost, you know I saw her cry many, many times because she didn't know how to do, she didn't know what was wrong with her. She loves her daughter, she just wants the best for her and she just think I cannot help her myself.
BOYLE: The carer, who wishes not to be named, says Chuu's mother sent her there because she didn't know where else to turn.
A new report from Cambodia's Social Affairs Ministry found that like Chuu, seven out of 10 Cambodian children who end up in orphanages have at least one parent.
It found poverty and the hope for a better future drove many parents to hand over their children to the orphanages, which were all-too-eager to take them. But that trend is about to stop says Cambodia's social affairs minister Ith Sam Heng, who has told orphanages the practice of using children to attract foreign donations must end.
At the launch of a report titled "With the Best Intentions", he announced a new policy aimed at keeping so called "at risk" children with their families.
ITH SAM HENG (translated): Before you think about gathering children for the centre, please think first about keeping them in their families. And forget that a source of funding is pretending to support the children, this is a way of feeding yourselves. Comply with the actual need. Orphanages are not like a primary school. 23 per cent don't have parents but 73 per cent have a father or a mother and some of them are not under the poverty line.
BOYLE: The minister says in future, at risk children will only be placed in institutions as a last resort, and there would be a clamp down on those failing to meet minimum standards of care.
It's a move welcomed by Richard Bridle, country representative of the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF.
BRIDLE: I have small children, I want them to stay with me and if I were poor I would want someone to help me not take them away and certainly would not like to have an organisation that is pressurizing me to give up my children to go into an institution to go and do dance performances at night in order to make money for the organisation.
BOYLE: UNICEF'S Richard Bridle urged the government and donors to switch their funding from orphanages to support for poor families in order to enable them to look after their own.
Sarah Chhin is with the social welfare group International Cooperation Cambodia.
She says funding also needs to be directed toward skilled care options for people with disabilities like Chuu.
CHHIN: What the government is really wanting to see is that NGOs step up to the mark with more innovative ways of providing alternative care rather than thinking that orphanages are the only option. For more thinking to go into what could the other options be and for the money that is currently ploughed into making orphanages, to be providing services that support families in crisis or families with challenges such as the one that you've brought up.
Sarah Chhin says tourists donating to the hundreds of registered and unregistered Cambodian orphanages need to think about the real impact they are having.
Sarah Chhin: Tourists need to think about what would be acceptable in their own countries. Would it be acceptable to knock on somebody's front door and say "can I come and help you look after your children?" An orphanage is the home of the children, however temporary or long term that that may be and its not appropriate to just go in and spend a few hours making yourself feel good when actually the children within orphanages already have attachment issues, they have rejection issues, they have all sorts of other issues that come with the trauma they have experienced before and the experiences that they're currently having in the orphanages.