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Volunteering in Cambodia: The good, the bad and the ugly

What impact is the rise in ‘volunteerism’ having on Cambodia? Are volunteers being conned by false orphanages? Does ‘orphanage tourism’ benefit only the self-interest of tourists? Or are volunteers an important workforce?

In 2009 Unicef reported that there were 630,000 orphans in Cambodia.
UNICEF – Cambodia – Statistics

Basic Indicators | Nutrition | Health | HIV/AIDS | Education | Demographic Indicators | Economic indicators | Women | Child Protection | The Rate of Progress | Adolescents | Equity | Under-five mortality rankings

Earlier this year the Independent reported that the Cambodian government had started inspecting over 250 orphanages after it was revealed that only 28% of children in Cambodia’s orphanages had lost both parents. The article describes how the number of orphanages has increased in line with the number of tourists visiting the country over the past five years.

Sebastien Marot, of Friends International, said that the money that tourists leave does not benefit the children, because, otherwise you’re “breaking the business”. They are kept in a state of poverty in order to attract more donations.

Cambodia’s orphanages target the wallets of well-meaning tourists

By Robert Carmichael in Phnom Penh The Cambodian government has started inspecting more than 250 orphanages after it was revealed that most of the country’s 12,000 orphans have at least one living parent. The government said that until the assessment is completed, it had no idea whether the children were being cared for properly.

Orphanages have become part of Cambodia’s landscape. Travel agencies, hotels and tuktuks drivers include orphanage visits in their sightseeing tours and tourists are given a misleading image of orphans in Cambodia.

Friends-International: Together, building futures

Myths and Realities about orphanages in Cambodia Over the years long-term residential care centers or orphanages have become part of Cambodia’s landscape. Travel agencies, hotels and tuktuks drivers have included visits of orphanages in their sightseeing tours and many orphanage directors are practicing an “open door policy”, welcoming any visitors into their centers.
Cambodia”s Disturbing Orphanage Industry

Research recently conducted by Susan Rosas of the International Organization for Adolescents (see: http://www.penhpal.com/ngos/cambodian-youth-leaving-orphanage-care/) has shown that the system of orphanage care is fraught with perils that most individual foreign donors, especially volunteer tourists, may be completely unaware of.
Research conducted in 2006 reported that of almost 9000 children living in orphanages in Cambodia, 40% were orphans, 11% were  abandoned and a further 43% were relinquished to institutional care due to poverty.The Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2005 estimated that around 9% of all children in Cambodia are orphans but only 1% of all children (approximately 66 000 children) have lost both parents.

Improving the Quality of Life of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS

The Kingdom of Cambodia, formerly known as Kampuchea, is a country in South East Asia with an estimated population of over 14 million people. The kingdom’s capital and largest city is Phnom Penh. A citizen of Cambodia is known as “Cambodian” or “Khmer,” though the latter only refers to ethnic Khmers.
Al Jazeera asks what effect orphanage tourism is having on the children involved.

So can volunteering in orphanages ever be a good thing? Sebastien Marot, the founder of Phnom Penh charity Friends International doesn’t think so. “The real question is,” he says, “would you do this in your own country? No.Have you ever visited an orphanage in your own country? No. Why? Because an orphanage is a safe place for kids and has to have a child protection system – it is to protect those children. They are already totally vulnerable.  Having people coming from outside is just not acceptable.”

UNICEF Concern Prompts Cambodian Investigation of Orphanages

The Cambodian government has begun investigating the country’s orphanages; just days after the United Nations Children’s Fund expressed its concerns that nearly three out of four children in the country’s orphanages have at least one living parent. Earlier this week, UNICEF said most of the 12,000 children in Cambodia’s orphanages are, in fact, not orphans.
What do you think? Leave your comments here.

About Katherine Latham

Copywriter, journalist, writer.



  1. Pingback: News/citizen journalism anaylsis « Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia - July 13, 2011

  2. Pingback: Children for Sale -Volunteering at an Orphanage - February 17, 2012

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