Dispute Brewing Over Care for AIDS Orphans

With an estimated 60,000 children orphaned by AIDS in Cam­bodia, many NGOs, government and religious workers are searching for ways to care for the children, but they can’t agree on the best approach.

Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong said Tuesday he envisions new skills training and residential centers in pagodas to house the thousands of Cambodian children whose parents die of AIDS.

“I appeal to the government in Cambodia to establish the center in Buddhist pagodas to protect the children,” Tep Vong said at a two-day conference in Phnom Penh organized by Save the Children Australia.

Some aid workers, however, contend that the orphans can be cared for more cheaply and effectively if they live with friends or relatives. “What’s needed is not building more expensive buildings, but is supporting these grand­mothers who are supporting the [or­phaned] children,” said Craig Green­field, country di­rector of Ser­vants to Asia’s Urban Poor, an NGO that provides assistance to 700 AIDS orphans in Phnom Penh.

Oftentimes orphans’ relatives are able to house the children and are more adept at providing psychological support after the trauma of the death, Green­field said.

In 80 percent of the cases, his NGO is able to find housing with relatives, he said.

A Save the Children 2003 re­port titled, “A Last Resort: The Growing Concern about Children in Residential Care,” noted that children are more likely to be neglected or abused in long-term institutional care.

But Tep Vong said a residential center—like one he proposes at the Kien Svay Buddhist Center—would provide for the orphans who are often left to pagodas when they have no other options.

Institutional centers, such as orphanages or pagodas, are necessary for children with nowhere to go, but children should remain in their communities whenever possible, said Carol Mortensen, country program director of Save the Children Australia. “If you don’t remain integrated in your community and in your school, you loose a lot of opportunities,” including psychological support, she said.

 

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