The government would today take a necessary step towards regulating services offered to orphans and vulnerable children by its agencies, community groups and hundreds of national and international NGOs that raise funds to help Cambodian children, child welfare experts said yesterday.
The move comes amid revelations that five of the more than 30 young people dismissed from an Australian-funded orphanage in Battambang in August have vanished, and that the orphanage’s staff lack the training required to protect children.
The aim of the new national standards set to be unveiled today was to shift from a model of short-term support “based on donor requirements and good intentions” to a long-term approach that assisted vulnerable children as well as their families, a statement from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation explained.
Of critical importance was that the new standards – drafted during a year-long consultative process between government officials and NGOs – aimed to prevent the separation of families by supporting vulnerable households rather than removing children from them, the ministry said.
Unicef Cambodia representative Richard Bridle praised the move as “an important step forward towards progressive realisation of children's rights in Cambodia”.
Earlier this year, Unicef raised concern about the surge in the number of orphanages in Cambodia, saying it had doubled over the past six years to 269.
Phal Vandy, a program manager at Save the Child-ren, said: “The standards will be an important tool to create an environment for effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders so that the care, support and protection of [orphans and vulnerable children] and their families can be standardised.’’
For Heng Chhailen, however, the standards have arrived too late. The 20-year-old was among those dismissed from the Australian-funded Hope for Cambodian Children orphanage last month.
Children and youths had previously staged a protest, saying they were not getting enough food and the orphanage’s dir-ector was corrupt.
Heng Chhailen said he had nowhere to go and was now living in a pagoda in Battambang. He said he feared for his security because of alleged harassment by orphanage dir-ector Dy Samrach.
The orphanage remains open, despite an inspection last month that found that it had failed to meet the Minimum Standards on Alternative Care for Children set by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation.
The inspection, conducted from August 18 to 20, found the orphanage had no social workers trained in child welfare. It also found that the orphanage did not have a single staff member trained in providing care to HIV-positive children, according an inspection report read by the Post.
Hope for Cambodian Children Foundation, the Australian organisation that funds the orphanage, claims that it helps Cambodian AIDS orph-ans because their society shuns them.
In its fund-raising activities at Australian schools, it claims there is an AIDS “pandemic” in Cambodia, but only 26 of the more than 100 children at the facility are parentless, according to the inspection report.
Only 13 of the children were HIV-positive, Dy Samrach admitted last month.
The foundation also claims that it works closely with United Nations agencies.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights investigated the orphanage last month, telling the Post it “urged management to consider the claims of the [protesting] children carefully”.
Despite the UN’s urging, more than 30 youths were dismissed from the orphanage following the protest.
They are aged from 16 to 23, and five of them have “vanished”, according to the inspection report, which also raises concerns about the death of a disabled child at the orphanage last year.
Heng Chhailen said the four-year-old girl had been ill for several days before staff took her to a hospital, where she died.
Unicef’s Bridle said: “The next step will be to build capacity and resources in order to sufficiently monitor [the new standards’] implementation”.
But child welfare experts warned yesterday that orph-anages had developed close ties with the officials tasked with monitoring them. This could impede efforts to enforce the standards, they said.
Dy Samrach declined to comment yesterday, but confirmed reports that she had received a letter from Interior Minister Sar Kheng giving his full support to both the orphanage and her position as its director.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment.
The orphanage was inaugurated by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, according to Hope for Cambodian Children’s website.