Although you may think you are ‘giving back’ by volunteering or visiting an orphanage, you are actually contributing to the rise in Cambodia’s fake orphanages.
During my five years living in Siem Reap, I witnessed an alarming increase in the rise of Cambodia’s fake orphanages. Many orphanages are set up as a profit-making business, and do not contribute to the development of local communities at all. There are reports around the country of children not having enough to eat, orphanage Directors abusing children and incidents of fraud.
Despite the amount of bad publicity about Cambodia’s fake orphanages, people still continue to volunteer at these institutions for days, weeks or months at a time. There are also busloads of tourists who rock up at orphanages for the day, armed with their camera and an eagerness to hug and play with children they are only meeting for the first time.
Many of these orphanages encourage and advertise for tourists to visit their premises. They say that the only way they can survive is through the generosity of visitors and volunteers. Assisting Cambodian Orphans and Disabled Organization (ACODO) posts flyers around Siem Reap town and invites people to come to a nightly dance performance at their orphanage. The children are turned into tourist attractions, and are, in reality, a commodity.
Tourists are coaxed into visiting these children at their homes [the orphanages], and don’t question that this would not be allowed in countries like Australia. They bounce in and out of the children’s lives, starting with disruption and ending with feelings of abandonment. It becomes a normal part of life, and it shouldn’t be.
“When I worked at an orphanage in Siem Reap, at least half of the children still had one parent.” – Cambodian staff member
According to a 2015 report by the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, one in every 350 children lives in an orphanage, while 80% of these children are not orphans.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation completed a study of orphanages in Cambodia and concluded that almost a third of children in care should be returned to their families by 2018. Although this is good news, it is estimated that 38% of orphanages have not been inspected, 25% of orphanages don’t have the necessary agreements with the government and 10% of orphanages are not even registered with the government. This means that it could still be a long time before the orphanage issue is under control. And with two million tourists visiting Cambodia each year, they are still likely to be encouraging the rise of Cambodia’s fake orphanages.
Yes, I am sure there are well-run orphanages around, but the fact is that Cambodia’s fake orphanages are playing with people’s lives. When children are raised in institutions, they are 500 times more likely to commit suicide, 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution as adults and 40 times more likely to have a criminal record. These children deserve to be with parents, guardians or foster families instead of orphanages. We, the tourists, have the ability to stop this.