Almost 200 Cambodian children were removed from orphanages in 2015 that either failed to live up to institutional standards or were found to employ staff who sexually abused children in their care, the Phnom Penh Post reported Friday.
Some 190 children were removed from seven underperforming institutions, with 275 others transferred to “family or community care,” according to government data published in the newspaper.
But this may just be the tip of the iceberg, as child abuse remains a chronic problem in the country's orphanages.
Between 2012 and 2015, 71 institutions were investigated and 17 were shut down due to sexual abuse of children, according to Seila Samleang, the executive director of child welfare organization Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE).
“[Based on] our experience from all these cases, we believe a lot more cases will be brought to light in the future. We still believe this is a big issue that is alarming,” Samleang told dpa.
APLE, which works with the national police, was involved in three orphanage closures in 2015 where staff were found to be sexually abusing children. One led to the recent conviction of former Our Home Cambodia director Hang Vibol on February 10.
While many orphanages sprang up in Cambodia in the 1980s and 1990s after decades of civil war, the number of such facilities continues to grow, according to UNICEF Cambodia.
Many children are placed in care for reasons of poverty in a country that has very few social welfare programmes.
Government inspections also remain erratic, meaning that most abuse is uncovered as a result of self-reporting by victims or an NGO-initiated investigation.
“Staff and volunteers seldom undergo appropriate background checks before being hired to work with children. Most residential centres do not have a system in place for children to report abuse,” Iman Morooka, UNICEF Cambodia’s chief of communications, told the Phnom Penh Post.