ORPHANAGES are a better option for some Cambodian children than remaining in the community, according to a study due to be released today; however, the findings are being disputed by some experts, who say that family ties are crucial for a child’s development.
Duke University in the US surveyed orphaned and abandoned children ages 6 to 12 in five Asian and African countries. In Cambodia, they studied 157 living in institutions and 250 living with extended family in Battambang province.
The research showed that children who lived in institutions had significantly higher body mass indexes and scored higher in health and cognitive tests.
“If the families are economically sound, then it’s better for children to stay in the community,” said Vanroth Vann, lead Cambodia researcher and interviewer.
“But if they would be at risk staying in the community – if no one takes care of them, if they have to find their own food or they face discrimination because their parents died of HIV – then they should move to an institution.”
In 2007, there were an estimated 600,000 orphans in Cambodia, according to UNICEF. Ministry of Social Affairs statistics point to 257 orphanages operating across the Kingdom.
Kean Khlaing, a state-run orphanage in Phnom Penh, has 144 children ages 5 to 20 years in its care. It receives a monthly grant of 4,000-5,000 riels (US$0.96-$1.20) per child.
Manager Kim Neang welcomed the findings and said such institutions offer children a more stable environment than living with extended family.
“If orphans can’t come to Kean Khlaing, then [they] can’t have a good future, education or sustenance,” she said. “Our instructors give something new to the orphans. It’s important for them to have education, money and support.”
Experts at World Vision, however, disputed the study’s findings, saying that children raised in institutions over long periods often leave with artificially inflated expectations of life and find it difficult to reintegrate into society.
“There are roles for orphanages, but you can’t make a general statement that they are better,” said Haidy Ear Dupuy, advocacy and communications director of World Vision Cambodia.
“Many [orphaned] children have relatives to care for them. It’s important for them to know their roots and where they have come from.”