Although many people believe that orphanages are a good solution to caring for orphans and vulnerable children, research worldwide tells us that this type of long term residential care negatively impacts the lives of the children in the long term, and that carefully assessed and monitored care in families and communities is far more preferable for the vast majority of vulnerable children.
Currently in Cambodia, there are 256 orphanages registered with the Government, and at least half as many again which remain unregistered. Nearly 3000 young people aged between 0 and 25 are living in orphanages in Phnom Penh, one third of them are aged 15 to 25. Levels of abuse, violence and exploitation in these orphanages are high, and young people are not being taught the life skills necessary to be independent and to keep themselves safe when they return to live in communities. They were taken into the orphanages because they were seen as vulnerable. This vulnerability hasn’t been removed, it has only been delayed, and often, increased.
Young adults still living in the orphanages fear that their future holds only friendlessness, rejection, exploitation, discrimination, loneliness, homelessness, starvation and victimisation. A large group of young adults who have already left orphanages and live in various places around Phnom Penh reports that they are being abused by employers, rejected and criticised constantly by neighbours, and fear for their lives. Most are surviving on less than $1 a day, and 100% of them have been homeless at some point during their transition out of the orphanages.
The majority of children and young people living in Cambodia’s orphanages today have parents and other relatives who could be supported to look after them. The tragedy is that most of them will not be able to return to live with their families after they leave the orphanages, as they have become disconnected and alienated from them. It is not that there are orphanages because there are orphans; there are orphans because there are orphanages. Those who do not have relatives also have the right to be brought up in a family.
M’lup Russey previously worked under the name ICC-Project SKY, and has recently registered as a Local Non-Governmental Organisation in Cambodia. The 2012 project evaluation confirmed that M’lup Russey is the only programme in Cambodia concentrating on supporting the reintegration of children in residential care. Key team members of M’lup Russey have worked in the field of alternative care for up to 12 years, and advised on the writing of government policy documents, specifically the Minimum Standards for the Alternative Care of Children and the Policy on Alternative Care, as well as collaborating on seminal residential care research published by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) in 2012. As a result, M’lup Russey has a very strong relationship with MoSVY, and project staff have an in-depth knowledge of policy and key persons within in the Ministry. As a result, M’lup Russey continues to be in the position of both advising on evolving government policy and supporting the Royal Government of Cambodia in its work to implement existing alternative care policy.