NGOs Scramble to Care for Children as Orphanages Close

More than a year after the government said it would crack down on Cambodia’s sprawling and disorganized orphanage system, 56 shelters have been closed by the Social Affairs Ministry, putting pressure on NGOs to house hundreds of children.

Amid mounting pressure from child welfare NGOs, the ministry in December 2015 demanded that all child care institutions register and adhere to a set of standards or risk being shut down. The ministry said this week that 56 shelters were shuttered and 462 children were placed in family homes last year.

An orphanage in Siem Reap province in 2013 (Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom)

Sebastien Marot, executive director of Friends International, said his organization saw an influx of children needing support last year after many emergency closures, which happen when child safety is found to be at immediate risk.

“It’s quite difficult when you have emergency closures. You have a huge number of kids coming immediately,” he said.

Although most of the shelters were small and the children were helped by several NGOs, it was “not a walk in the park,” Mr. Marot said.

“There’s still pressure on the NGOs, still pressure on funding, [we] still have to feed and house the kids, and have staff,” he said. “But so far, we’ve managed.”

Of the children the ministry sent to Friends last year, most have already been reintegrated into private homes, he said.

“In most of the cases, the kids have been placed back with either their direct family or extended family,” he said. Others were placed in foster homes.

According to the ministry’s annual report released on Wednesday, 639 facilities housing 26,187 minors registered last year, with 406 of them housing children and the others both children and teenagers.

Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth said in Thursday’s meeting that the government would like 30 percent of children still in residential care to be returned to their families or communities by next year.

The campaign does not appear to have progressed equally across the country. Maggie Eno, co-founder and director of the Sihanoukville-based child protection NGO M’Lop Tapang, said no shelters were closed last year in Preah Sihanouk province.

“It has been only the past three months that they’ve been meeting and starting to trace families,” she said.

Last week, NGOs Hagar International and Save the Children started an advisory body to help the government develop national standards for its social work staff, as part of a broader project, Family Care First, which aims to phase out residential care.

The ministry currently employs 17 social workers through a Unicef-sponsored initiative, said Ros Sokha, the ministry’s director of child welfare.

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