The government has closed down several orphanages for violating children’s rights in the past year, with almost 200 children removed from centres rife with rape, physical abuse, trafficking or inadequate food, according to a state report released yesterday.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation’s 2015 annual report also revealed details of the government’s ongoing round-ups of thousands of the homeless.
According to the report, 190 children were transferred from seven orphanages that failed to live up to minimum standards of care and management.
A further 275 children were moved into family or community care – the first small step in the government’s stated mission to reduce the 11,017 children in orphanages by 30 per cent by 2018.
The report also reported 2,400 homeless people and beggars were rounded up last year, with 900 of those in Phnom Penh.
Toch Channy, spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Affairs, told the Post that there were currently 108 people living in the notorious Prey Speu centre, which houses the capital’s “undesirables”.
“There are some NGOs requesting us to shut it down, but we won’t do it,” he said.
“We won’t close it, but we will renovate it. We will make it look better than before.”
In yet another re-branding of the controversial centre, where two people died last October, it is to be renamed the “Phnom Penh Transit Centre”.
“We will not only change the name, we will also change the management and leadership. We will construct more buildings and add more staff to ensure the people living there have good health and enough food to eat,” Channy said.
Iman Morooka, UNICEF Cambodia’s chief of communications, supported the government’s move to reduce the number of children living in residential care, saying more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of children in orphanages have at least one living parent.
“Residential care has been shown to place children at increased risk of physical and sexual abuse,” she said via email.
“Staff and volunteers seldom undergo appropriate background checks before being hired to work with children. Most residential centres do not have a system in place for children to report abuse.”
Funding problems in Cambodian residential care centres often resulted in child labour, the communications chief said, and the government needed to strengthen its capacity with a sufficient number of social workers, “stronger oversight of residential care institutions, and follow-up mechanisms to continue support for the child and the family”.