Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - More kids in care than thought: study

More kids in care than thought: study

Cambodian orphans play together as they wait for adoption at Kien Klaing orphanage centre in Phnom Penh. A new study has found that as many as one in 100 Cambodian children live in residential care institutions. Philippe Lopez/AFP
Cambodian orphans play together as they wait for adoption at Kien Klaing orphanage centre in Phnom Penh. A new study has found that as many as one in 100 Cambodian children live in residential care institutions. Philippe Lopez/AFP

More kids in care than thought: study

Almost one in every 100 children in Cambodia is living in a residential care institution, a number far higher than previous estimates, according to a new report in the British Medical Journal.

Around 70 percent of the children in Cambodia’s orphanages are estimated to have at least one living parent, and the government has pledged to return 30 percent of orphanage residents back to their families by 2018. The new study – conducted by Cambodia’s National Institute of Statistics, together with researchers from Columbia University and the consulting firm Moulathan – aimed to produce more accurate data to help the government track its progress towards reaching the reintegration goal.

But the researchers found that around 48,775 children live in residential care, a number far higher than the figure of 11,453 children the government previously presented. Of those children, more than half are between the ages of 13 and 17.

According to James Sutherland of the youth organisation Friends International, reintegrating a child back into family life gets harder the longer the child is institutionalised, a fact that poses particular problems for this older age group.

“It becomes more difficult to reintegrate with your family and also with everyone else,” he said, adding that institutionalised children often have vastly different experiences from their peers.

Bunly Meas, a representative of Unicef Cambodia, noted that new programs targeted at teenagers will be needed to help these young people reintegrate.

“Without programs to help them adjust to their new environment, they can sometimes feel lost,” Meas said in an email. “Some also face discrimination from the community … It is more likely to happen to children in older age groups.”

The new figures show how much work must be done before a significant number of young people return home, Sutherland added. “This shows us the scope and the level of work we have cut out for us over the next few years,” he said, adding that the new numbers are “still only a best guess”.

The study was the first attempt to estimate the number of institutionalised children in Cambodia that went beyond summarising administrative data, the report’s authors wrote, proving it is “feasible to conduct a national estimation of children in residential care institutions in a resource-limited setting”.

Among the children surveyed who had at least one living parent, the majority were living in an institution in the same province as their parent. According to the study’s authors, the high number of institutionalised youth is indicative of a lack of alternatives for parents who struggle to support their dependents.

“Some people have even gone so far as to describe residential care in Cambodia as a de facto social welfare system, albeit one that has been subject to intense criticism,” the authors wrote.

The researchers also found that around one-third of the country’s institutions did not have a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and that around 70 percent of these institutions had not been inspected by the ministry.

“These findings raise substantial concerns for child health, protection and national development priorities,” they wrote.

Officials at the ministry declined to comment for this story.

According to Sutherland, members of the NGO sector are “very aware” that many orphanages are unregulated, a fact that allows them to “pretty much do whatever they want”.

Nevertheless, the study’s results weren’t entirely bleak. Children living in institutionalised care in countries like Russia and Romania have been found malnourished, undereducated, emotionally neglected and permanently stunted.

But that is not the case in Cambodia, where researchers documented “high levels of school attendance and literacy, low levels of reported work and illness, and high levels of reported safety and trust” among children in residential care.

“For some indicators, children in residential care may be doing better than their community counterparts in the lowest wealth quintiles, especially in terms of educational achievement and literacy,” the authors wrote.

MOST VIEWED

  • Purging Sihanoukville’s past with a new masterplan

    Amid illicit activities, haphazard development and abandoned projects, the coastal city of Sihanouk province needs a reset to move forward. A new masterplan might be the answer to shake off its seemingly mucky image to become the Shenzhen of the south Gun toting, shootouts, police

  • Chinese may be first in tourism revival: PM

    Cambodia's tourism industry is gearing up to roll out the red carpet for Chinese travellers after Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 17 indicated that the Kingdom could soon throw open its doors to international holidaymakers vaccinated against Covid-19 – starting with guests from China. Cambodia Chinese

  • Four-pillar approach in reopening of tourism: PM

    Cambodia is drawing up a four-strategy approach to promptly restore domestic and international tourism activity and put the industry on a transition pathway to a sustainable and inclusive model that is resistant to future crises, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The prime minister made

  • Airline says ready for green light to reopen international tourism

    Sky Angkor Airline Co Ltd on September 21 said it is ready to transport South Korean and Chinese tourists to the Kingdom once the Cambodian government makes good on plans to reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers. The Siem Reap-based airline made the remark during a

  • Tourism concerns laid bare

    To ensure the success of plans to reopen the tourism market for international visitors, Cambodia must pay utmost attention to two primary determinants – the ongoing paradigm shift in domestic tourism services towards the ‘new normal’, and the factors influencing choices of destinations among foreign holidaymakers.

  • Cambodian bride ‘badly treated, held captive’ by Chinese man seeks help

    A Cambodian woman who travelled to China to marry a Chinese man there was “badly treated” by her husband’s family and then had to be rescued and will be returned to Cambodia to ensure her safety. The rescue operation came about after the 25-year-old