People & Power

Interview: Ith Sam Heng

Cambodia’s minister of social affairs, veterans and youth rehabilitation talks to People & Power.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation is the government department that oversees the orphanages in the country. It works with NGOs and other government agencies to build centres to look after Cambodia’s orphans.

Despite a period of relative peace and prosperity in the country, and the fact that there are consequently fewer genuine orphans, the number of orphanages has grown between 2005 and 2010. The ministry says this rise has occurred because of the generosity of international and local donors who have chosen to support the institutions.

The ministry’s goal now is to reduce the number of orphanages and reform those that remain. Assisted by UNICEF, it has begun to draw up a system in order to protect vulnerable families and children. In 2008, it adopted the Minimum Standards on Alternative Care for Children, which includes minimum standards for residential care for children as well as alternative care for children in the community. It has also prepared legislation to enforce the quality of care and support children receive, in line with the United Nation’s Agreement for Children Rights.

The ministry additionally says it is developing a strategy of foster care for children from orphanages – and that placing children within secure families is the best way for them to grow up. In 2011, the government claims to have transformed 70 orphanages into children care centres in which children live with families based in the community.

With an estimated 500 orphanages in the country but only 270 officially registered with the government, the ministry will have its work cut out.

As Cambodia’s Orphan Business went to air, CUCO, the orphanage featured in the film and which failed three government inspections after complaints by former volunteers, remained open for business.