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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Taking aim at ‘voluntourism’

Taking aim at ‘voluntourism’

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Former scavengers at the Stung Meanchey dump site practise for a performance at an orphanage in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district in March.

Campagners are hoping a new social-media campaign launched yesterday will shock tourists into rethinking what are ultimately harmful engagements with orphanages in Cambodia.

The brainchild of Friends International and Childsafe, the anti -“voluntourism”campaign, supported by Unicef, features the tagline “children are not tourist destinations”.

“There has been a 65 percent increase in orphanages in Cambodia since 2005,” said Friends International communications director James Sutherland. “This is the 21st Century; the situation should be getting better, not worse. Tourists are perpetuating that system.”

The campaign uses the image of two children trapped in a glass exhibit box, peering out at Western tourists who are aiming digital cameras at them, an attempt to highlight the number of children who are forced to perform, advertise, beg and work to bring in funding for their orphanage directors.

“Orphanages are not zoos, and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home” the Friends International promotional material states.

“We know this is going to be contentious, and we invite debate,” Sutherland said.

About 72 percent of children in orphanages in Cambodia are not orphans, according to Friends, which said it was eight times more expensive to house a child in an orphanage than it is to house them with their families at home.

“As almost all residential care centres are funded by individuals from overseas, many centres turn to tourism to attract more donors, fuelling a system that exposes children to risk,” Unicef representative Richard Bridle said.

“Orphanages fundraise by offering tours to foreigners, in which children are required to perform dancing or to solicit donations. There is no legal requirement for orphanages to account for funds raised in this way.”

Friends’ executive director, Sebastien Marot, said the campaign is being launched on social media to combat the online recruit of volunteers and to get the message more efficiently to young people.
“The campaign aims to bring about a behavioural change in young people visiting Cambodia,” Marot said.

“You aren’t allowed to go anywhere and hug a child in your own country, why should you be able to do it here?”

The campaign is being done in cooperation with the Royal government, which in 2008 passed minimum standards of care for children in orphanages, and in 2010, a draft prakas on child care.

“Orphanages are not required to be registered; there are not standards of practices across the orphanages,” Marot said, adding that some orphanages are not registered with the government.

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