The Cambodian government on Thursday introduced guidelines aiming to better protect orphans and vulnerable children after childcare experts voiced alarm over an unregulated boom in orphanages.
The new standards emphasise that placing children in institutions should be "a last resort", after UNICEF said earlier this year that three quarters of the 12,000 children in Cambodia’s orphanages had at least one living parent.
"At all times, efforts should be made to keep children in families or community-based care, with residential care as a last resort and a temporary arrangement," the newly adopted Standards and Guidelines document states.
Cambodian Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng told AFP the guidelines, drafted with the help of UNICEF and other children’s rights groups, were "very important" in helping to keep families together.
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The UN agency had earlier expressed concern about the country’s poor and vulnerable children after learning that over the past six years, the number of orphanages in the impoverished nation has almost doubled to 269.
Only one in 10 of these are funded by the state, it found, while the rest rely on charitable donations to survive, including from tourists who are encouraged to visit orphanages, volunteer there or watch shows performed by the children.
Childcare specialists say they fear that this kind of orphan tourism has contributed to the growth in orphanages and encouraged the institutionalization of poor children.
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