“Don’t Create More Orphans,” which is being implemented by child protection NGO Friends International and UNICEF, is targeting private and corporate donors as well as faith-based organizations in particular -- the primary drivers of an industry the campaign says is detrimental to the welfare and development of the country’s children.
More than 70 percent of the children in institutions in Cambodia have a parent, but the many people in poverty feel they are unable to afford looking after their children and send them to residential homes.
This, combined with donations to orphanages around the country, has seen the number of institutions swell -- including those that fall far short of the minimum standards of care mandated by the government and where children are starved and receive no education.
Rana Flowers, UNICEF’s country representative, cited alarming figures during a speech at the launch in Phnom Penh, stressing that Cambodia’s genuine orphan problem has significantly decreased since the war-torn 1970s.
“The number of orphans has reduced in the country, and yet there is this astounding explosion of institutions around the country,” she said, noting that the majority of institutions registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth spring up in popular tourist areas such as Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh.
“In 2014, there were 12,000 children in residential facilities that we knew about,” Flowers added.
She said data shows there were 154 institutions registered in 2005 and 225 by 2013.
However, according to the results of a recent study, the number of institutions --including those unregistered -- in just five provinces stands at a staggering 600, approximately.
Flowers said that while there will “sadly” always be a need for a small number of such facilities, the reality in Cambodia is that the majority of these “orphans” have a living parent or family member.
As a result, donors are being asked to redirect their money toward organizations that try and keep family units together.
In most of the so-called orphanages, “abuse and exploitation are rampant,” she added, reiterating UNICEF’s position that the majority must be shut down.
“Donors drive the flow of children into institutions, and we need to stop volunteers… they establish bonds, then they leave.”
Sebastien Marot, founder of Friends International, said the campaign -- which includes a new website, promotional video and posters featuring children peering out of boxes -- aims to change people’s perceptions and spread awareness of the alternative care options available.
It follows a campaign titled “Children Are Not Tourist Attractions,” which was launched by the NGO in 2011 and encourages tourists to think before paying visits to orphanages in Cambodia.