PHNOM PENH • Cambodia yesterday launched a crackdown on bogus orphanages set up to attract donations from tourists. It aims to return about 3,500 children who are not orphans to their families, said a government minister.
About 17 per cent of Cambodians live below the national poverty line. Some families who are too poor to look after their children send them to orphanages, hoping that they will be taken care of and given an education.
Many orphanages have opened in recent years, some unlicensed and unsafe, and with few real orphans, raising concerns about neglect and abuse.
The orphanage boom has matched a surge in foreign tourists to the South-east Asian country, one of the world's poorest.
Some social workers have appealed to tourists to stay away from orphanages, saying that so-called orphanage tourism enables child exploitation.
"There are many abuses inside orphanages," said Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Sauth in a speech at the launch of the crackdown.
A recent government survey found 16,579 orphans living in 406 orphanages across Cambodia, far more than expected, and 38 per cent of the orphanages have never been inspected, officials said.
Mr Vong Sauth said 80 per cent of these children were not actual orphans and that under the government plan, 3,500 of them would be returned to their families by next year.
Mr Sar Bunthoeun, director of Cambodian Children's House of Peace, an orphanage in Siem Reap in north-west Cambodia, said he supported the government's plan. He said neglect and abuse are common in orphanages, but denied any problems at his orphanage.