Orphanage Oversight Passed to Provincial, Local Authorities

Oversight of orphanages across the country will be placed in the hands of provincial and local authorities in an attempt to cut down on bureaucracy and administrative delays, according to a sub-decree released to the public on Thursday.

The reforms will hasten decision-making and transfer responsibility in providing services to local administrations that are closest to child victims and vulnerable children, says the sub-decree, signed in March by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth. It was made available for the first time at a workshop at the Social Affairs Ministry on Thursday.

Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth speaks at an event in Phnom Penh to present a report about the country’s orphanages and a plan to help return children to their families in 2017. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“By passing duties and roles on, [the work] will be better and more effective,” Mr. Sauth said at the workshop.

According to the decree, provincial officials will monitor state-run orphanages, while district officials will oversee NGO-run facilities. Commune officials will be charged with identifying children who need residential care and transferring children into community care, it says.

Ros Sokha, director of the Social Affairs Ministry’s child welfare department, said provinces will receive a yearly budget of at least $150,000 per residential care facility from the government. Training will begin in the coming weeks for provincial leaders before moving onto district and commune officials, he said.

In the past, providing money to feed children took at least two weeks—and sometimes a month or more—due to paperwork being passed from one provincial or national level to the next, Mr. Sokha said.

“But now the process is in the hands of the provincial authorities,” he said. “It takes just two or three days for document processing and for withdrawing the money.”

The announcement follows Tuesday’s start of a pilot program in Battambang province that tasks local authorities with transferring more than 400 children from orphanages into family or community care. An estimated 13,000 children—or 80 percent of children in residential care across the country—have at least one living parent, according to Unicef data from 2015.

The success of the transfer of responsibility will depend largely on the investment of local officials, said Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia.”

“In Cambodia there’s always issues in implementation, so you can have great incentives in place, but the question is what incentives will take place between the law that’s on paper…and what actually happens on the ground,” he said.

The program could be impactful “if the training was done by officials who know what they’re talking about and officials were engaged and wanting to approach the issue—commit to it,” he added.

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