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Young boys watch a television at an orphanage in Phnom Penh. A sub-decree signed in September requires all orphanages to register with Ministry of Social Affairs in the next six months.
Young boys watch a television at an orphanage in Phnom Penh. A sub-decree signed in September requires all orphanages to register with Ministry of Social Affairs in the next six months. Sovan Philong

New scrutiny for centres

Unlicensed orphanages have six months to register with the government under new legislation that also strictly defines the circumstances under which children can live at such facilities.

The sub-decree “management on children care centres” signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 11 sets out nine chapters and 20 articles aimed at better regulating a sector rife with allegations of mismanagement and exploitation.

Answerable to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, centres must be legally registered within six months and from then on meet several standards covering management, children’s welfare and finances, according to the document.

Oum Sophanara, director of the Children’s Welfare Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said 60 of 228 known centres had not registered with the ministry, with an addtional 15 shuttered for failing to meet standards.

However, she said the 228 centres, which include more than 20 state-run facilities and house more than 11,000 children, were likely less than the real number, with small local orphanages unaccounted for.

According to UNICEF statistics, the number of children in Cambodian orphanages is growing despite the fact that more than three-quarters of those in the centres have living parents.

Vuthy Sokanha, communication officer at Friends International, said centres were known to falsely present children as orphans to foreigners to elicit donations, known sometimes as “orphanage tourism”.

“It’s a business to earn money from donors only,” Sokanha said.

Under the sub-decree, only children without parents, guardians or families; those whose parents are in jail; and children who have suffered trafficking, migration or have fled their family because of abuse can reside at orphanages.

Sophanara said the ministry would also draft a further prakas to demand centres reveal the source of their funding, to ensure they were properly resourced.

“To raise a child, you have to have money before having children,” Sophanara said.

“At least 5,000 riels [$1.25] per day, and this does not include their clothes and other basic supplies for them,” he said.

In the event of complaints, the ministry will conduct an inspection within 48 hours after a complaint, according to the law.

Non-compliance can prompt warning letters, suspensions or closures, while individuals can also face legal repercussions.

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