Cambodia will likely miss its goal of reuniting 30 percent of children living in orphanages with their parents by the end of 2018, a Ministry of Social Affairs official acknowledged yesterday.
Ministry spokesman Touch Channy said the government has managed to reintegrate 700 children with their parents so far, out of a target of 3,500 under the Unicef-supported action plan.
The figures were announced at a year-end meeting of the Ministry of Social Affairs held in Siem Reap and presided over by Minister Vong Soth yesterday.
Channy said the ministry may “readjust” the target, but that the important thing is that officials are making sure it is in each child’s best interest to return to their families.
“This plan is not to just reach the target,” Channy said. “If we just wanted to reach the target, it is not difficult. We could just count the number of children asking to leave the centres. But we don’t do it that way. We care about the quality and quantity.”
The government issued sweeping reforms of orphanages in 2015 after studies showed an estimated 80 percent of children in institutions have living parents. Advocacy groups have tried to reduce the number of institutionalised care centres in Cambodia due to the risks to children, including physical and emotional abuse and exploitation, sometimes in the form of “orphanage tourism”.
Regarding the goal of reuniting 3,500 so-called orphans with their families, Unicef Cambodia spokesman Iman Morooka said it is “critical” for Cambodia to train more social workers to speed up the process and fill a national shortage.
“There’s still one more year when we hope that progress will be accelerated,” she said in an email.
“This said, reintegration is a slow and long-term process and must be conducted very carefully. While the numbers matter, these are lives of real children.”
According to Morooka, the growth of licensed orphanages has slowed since 2015, when the government issued a sub-decree aimed at tightening oversight of the facilities. Among other things, the sub-decree required all orphanages to get a permit, submit to inspections and tighten admissions criteria.
Morooka added that Unicef is in the process of rolling out a digitised inspection system to help Ministry of Social Affairs officials collect real-time data on residential care institutions.