Lindsay Murdock (South-East Asia correspondent for Fairfax Media)
Volunteering in Cambodia ‘harming children’
Visiting orphanages and volunteering in Cambodia is dangerous for children as they become emotionally attached to foreigners and feel abandoned when they leave, says Friends International chief Sebastien Morat.
Dozens of orphanages in Cambodia, including some run by Australians, have been accused of abuse, neglect or exploiting children to attract donations.
The government in Phnom Penh is cracking down on the multimillion-dollar orphanage industry after investigators discovered shocking abuses of children and a list has been compiled of centres targeted for raids and closure.
Children in one orphanage told investigators how they were forced to crawl while they were beaten with sticks and had to eat rice from the ground as punishment for failing to recite Bible psalms, says SISHA, an anti-trafficking and exploitation organisation working with government agencies in Phnom Penh.
Another orphanage offered children for local adoption to avoid laws prohibiting foreign adoptions in the country, says SISHA’s operations director Eric Meldrum, a British former detective. ‘They told me to go over there and choose which one I want,” Mr Meldrum told Fairfax Media.
Investigators say Australia has a greater involvement in Cambodia’s orphanages than any other nation through Australians running them directly, volunteering or donating.
Seventy-two per cent of about 10,000 children in Cambodia’s estimated 600 orphanages have a parent, though most are portrayed as orphans to capitalise on the goodwill of tourists and volunteers, including thousands of Australians, research shows. Up to 300 of these centres are operating illegally and flouting a push by government and UN agencies for children to be reunited with their parents.
The managers of several respected Australian-run orphanages are alarmed by the situation and note that the number of orphanages has increased 65 percent in the past five years, while the number of orphans has reduced dramatically as Cambodia recovered from genocide, invasion and an AIDS epidemic.
- Two Parts: Lost Daughters discuss the Child Catchers (laratracehentz.wordpress.com)
- Phnom Penh: What Not To Do In Phnom Penh: The Top 5 Tourist Mistakes (jaunted.com)
- Cambodia Building Collapse: Shoe Factory Accident Kills 2, Injures 6 In Phnom Penh (huffingtonpost.com)