What Everyone Needs To Learn About Cambodia's Orphanage Tourism Industry

Cambodia is a truly magical destination and one that is increasingly popular with tourists who wish to explore the historical sights of Siem Reap, the bustling city of Phnom Penh or the islands off the south coast such as Koh Rong.

The outlook for 2020 issued by the National Bank of Cambodia said the number of foreign tourists could hit 7 million, increasing from the estimated 6.7 million in 2019. A percentage of visitors choose to travel to Cambodia in Southeast Asia to help give their time and money to the voluntourism or volunteer tourist industry. The majority of this volunteer commonly involves children living in care.

Volunteering at a children's home or at what is better known in Cambodia as an orphanage comes at a cost. Each year, thousands of people volunteer without really knowing who they are supporting, both with their time and their money. So why does this matter? Isn't helping children a good thing? Well, that depends on many factors but it may come as a surprise that research answers this with an overwhelming, no. No - working with children in orphanages here in Cambodia is not good. Interested in learning more? Let's take a look further into this situation.

5 Key Points You Need To Know

1. An Orphanage Operates As A Business

In many cases, orphanages operate as a business in Cambodia in order to generate a profit through the exploitation of children who commonly have one or more living parent. The orphanages, which base their business on a concept of institutionalising children, often prioritise the requirements of the business or organisation itself over the welfare of the children. There are many key factors to be aware of when it comes to orphanages or children's home's in the region.

  • Firstly, the majority are separated from their family.

  • Children are accommodated in a living space with a large number of other children.

  • You may notice that the centre is further isolated or that children live away from the wider community.

  • The institution does not commonly support a healthy relationship with the child's family and at times siblings may be separated or disconnected over time with one another.

  • Children are at risk of developing Reactive Attachment Disorders.

  • Children with learning difficulties or disabilities do not commonly have additional care or support.

  • Children may be required to interact with tourists and visitors without a choice.

  • Children commonly have no formal education are taught by volunteers who do not have appropriate training.

  • Children may be required to perform concerts or shows (traditional dance or music) for tourists for donations.

For more information, you can read the Children First Report produced by Comhlámh and the Volunteering and Orphanages Working Group (OWG).

2. It Is For-Profit

This industry generates an annual profit of over $2.6 million a year as many volunteers and students pay over $2000 to partake in a volunteer trip abroad to work with children living in poverty. Researching where your money goes and why you are required to pay such high fees to an organisation is very important for tourists to do on their own prior to signing up for volunteer work abroad.

3. Fake Or Sponsored Orphans

Many of the children you see in 'orphanages' and 'children's homes' in places like Cambodia - actually have a living parent or extended family. It is estimated over 80% of children still have a living parent.

Yes, it might be true that their family can not care for them - but in many cases, the parent did not surrender their own child to the orphanage. Business owners go to the local villages and offer families money (often very little money) for them to put the child into their care. They are promised protection and education.

However, many children live in devastating conditions within these homes, exposed to a higher risk of child exploitation. Orphanage tourism can keep children separated from their families and many children are then portrayed as orphans to gain sponsorship from foreigners - this monthly donation meant for school fee's and living expenses rarely goes directly to the child.

4. Children Posing As Tourist Attract