Police clearance for volunteers? It will happen.

Orphanages in Cambodia occasionally get blanketed with bad press due the failures of some of these organisations. This week’s stories have again unleashed latent criticism (not all of it very informed) about the role and standard of orphanages across Cambodia.

In fact the Cambodian Government is working actively in the sector to lift standards. As this Al Jazeera report shows the sector has at least 500 orphanages and of these only around half, 270, are formally registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs. So the Government is taking an aggressive shape-up or ship-out stance towards the sector with an overall intention of reducing the number of children in foster care.

This has been the recipe promoted by UNICEF, but the story isn’t so simple. In a nation with no real safety-net for needy families, and the number of Cambodians living below the poverty line estimated to be one third of the population (92% of whom are rural dwellers) the UNICEF objective of returning all children to their families simply doesn’t address the core problem: how will the children of the poor receive adequate food, care and education?

Until adequate safety mechanisms are in place the role of orphanages (who need to openly discuss that most of their children have at least one parent) must be rated as necessary.

In the meantime the Government’s policy of promoting and, if necessary, enforcing higher standards of care and management is to be applauded. For Savong’s organisation these steps have led to more compliance-related paperwork.

We do think that this will accelerate the need for volunteers to be required, in future, to produce police clearance forms of similar, from their own countries in order to help vouchsafe that volunteers have no dubious back-history. See also:  Savong School child safety policy.

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The big question is – how do you provide adequate food, care and education for today’s vulnerable children?

Child Safety in the spotlight

Observant followers of child welfare projects in Cambodia will have noted this week two orphanages hitting the news. One, a Phnom Penh orphanage has been closed for alleged breaches of child safety.  In another orphanage in Siem Reap a local manager has been detained for alleged sexual abuse.

The timing of these moves is interesting, because in recent weeks the Ministry has been extremely active in checking paperwork and helping NGOs implement clear standard procedures. For example if a child visits their parents for a few days, their exit and re-arrival needs to be recorded. Such things were previously more laissez-faire.

The main objective by the Government is to license all NGOs and to hold these organisations (ours included) to account. Good work.

For those who have not seen our Child Safety policy – this was developed in consultation with volunteers world-wide, several of whom work in child-care professions.

One aspect of the recent news reports is worrisome. In Cambodia it is very easy for any individual to make an allegation and for this to be followed by arrests though, not necessarily, true justice.

And already (two days after the initial reports) the Phnom Penh story appears murky with Cambodia Daily publishing a report quoting police refuting the events reported elsewhere (they say the orphanage founder merely sought assistance) while anti-trafficking organisation SISHA maintains its allegations that children were treated badly and with physical violence.  (Here’s an interview with them from the AC Radio in Australia.)

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The Cambodian government is flexing its muscles to introduce controls for orphanages and other NGOs.