Just over half of the orphanages in five “priority provinces”, including Phnom Penh, are registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) as legally required, according to a preliminary survey released yesterday.
The data suggest that the number of children in residential care institutions is 56 per cent higher than previously estimated.
And until now, only institutions recognised by the ministry have been evaluated for minimum standards of care. A sub-decree mandating that all institutions register with the government was signed in October.
The report, conducted with support from UNICEF, found that while 267 facilities met the definition of a residential care institution, only 139 were inspected in 2014. In the capital alone, there are 69 facilities that have never been inspected, according to Bruce Grant, the chief of child protection at UNICEF Cambodia.
Left unregulated, institutions raise “a number of serious concerns”, including overcrowding, exploitation and deliberately poor conditions designed to attract donor funding, said James Sutherland, spokesman for Friends International, which provided support for the survey.
Preliminary mapping took place in the provinces thought to have the largest number of residential care facilities: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk.
MoSVY has committed to remove 30 per cent of children from residential care by 2018, part of a supported effort to transition institutions into resources for families. Three-quarters of children in orphanages in Cambodia have at least one living parent, according to UNICEF data.
The ministry will not accept new applications for residential care institutions until all current facilities have been evaluated. Inspections will begin after the Khmer New Year holiday, according to Ros Sokha, the newly appointed head of the ministry’s child welfare department.
“If possible, we will inspect all of them,” he said.
The ministry will also forbid the admission of children to NGO-run facilities without its authorisation; severely limit the placement of children under the age of 3; and establish a rapid-response team for cases of abuse or non-compliance, according to the report.
MoSVY requested that all institutions submit notification forms with basic background information by February 28. Yesterday, Sokha said he was uncertain how many had been received.
Cambodia’s Policy on Alternative Care for Children states that institutional care should be not only a last resort, but also a “temporary solution”. Sixty-five per cent of the surveyed residential care institutions provide long-term care, the report said. Data on length of stay for 26 per cent of the institutions was unavailable.
The survey identified 401 facilities (including residential care, faith-based care, group homes and others) responsible for 18,451 children and an additional 7,708 young adults over the age of 18, based on self-reported data collected by ministry staff.
Data for the other 20 provinces, along with recommendations for the alternative-care system, will be released in mid-2016, the report said.