The government was unaware of about half of the residential child care centers operating in four provinces and Phnom Penh prior to a study conducted last year, according to a report released on Thursday.
The report, which was conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in cooperation with Unicef, maps residential care facilities in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk provinces. The sites included 267 institutional care centers as well as 134 informal facilities, including group homes, boarding schools, pagodas, transitional homes and other forms of emergency accommodation.
A total of 26,159 young people were found to be living in 401 such facilities, with 18,451 under the age of 18. The report says that because so many care centers had been operating off the government’s radar, there had been no checks to ensure the quality of care.
“There were 139 residential care institutions in the five provinces that were known to the ministry and that had been inspected in 2014, whereas the mapping identified a total of 267 residential care institutions, a 92 percent increase,” the report says.
“This was mainly due to the fact that only those residential care institutions with a memorandum of understanding with the ministry had been inspected,” it says.
“The findings confirm our long-held concerns over an uncontrolled increase of residential care institutions in the country, putting the well-being and safety of children living in unmonitored institutions at risk,” Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth was quoted as saying in a statement accompanying the report.
The Social Affairs Ministry last year introduced a requirement for all child care institutions to register with the government and adhere to a set of minimum standards or risk closure.
The move came after years of campaigning by Unicef to move children out of institutional care and into family or community-based care.
According to a sub-decree ratified in September, centers that did not register with the ministry before February 28 would be closed, and those that registered but failed to meet standards would be issued a written warning before being temporarily suspended.
Thursday’s report says the ministry has a stated commitment to reintegrating 30 percent of the children included in the study by 2018.
Bruce Grant, chief of child protection for Unicef Cambodia, said the government had taken positive steps to reduce the number of children being put into care without compelling reasons, but efforts needed to be stepped up to reach the “ambitious” target.
“The government should allocate more resources for basic services and recruit a sufficient number of social workers to reach this goal,” he said.
Touch Channy, a spokesman for the ministry, referred questions to his boss, Suong Menglong, who hung up on a reporter.