At an ongoing High Court appeal in London by six couples challenging Britain’s ban on adoptions from Cambodia, one of the appellants stated in support of his case that 5 percent of the Cambodian population is orphaned.
The extended family system in Cambodia is no longer able to cope, Malcolm Dixon told The Times of London newspaper on April 18, adding that state orphanages are overflowing, causing thousands of children to live on the streets.
While no one doubts that many Cambodian orphans live in deplorable conditions, an examination of the statistics cited by Dixon and British media reveals a more complex picture.
The 5 percent of the population that is orphaned, according to the British Broadcasting Corp, represents 670,000 orphans under the age of 18. That figure comes from a UN Children’s Fund report, “Children on the Brink 2004.”
Adoption experts in Phnom Penh say the figure seems high.
More than 85 percent of the 670,000 still have one parent, according to the report.
Some 12,000 orphans are in institutionalized care in Cambodia, such as homes and orphanages, said Caroline Bakker, head of Unicef’s children in need of special protection section.
Others live with their extended families, with neighbors or on the streets.
Also, not all children in orphanages are orphans. Some are there because their parents are too poor to look after them. Others are victims of trafficking and are waiting to be sold, said Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho.
Although adoption experts say it is not safe for the adoption ban to be fully lifted for fear of renewed baby-buying in Cambodia, there is a precedent for Western bans on Cambodian adoptions being temporarily wavered.
Eleven French families who began applying to adopt Cambodian children before a 2003 French ban completed their adoptions in late December 2004 and early January of this year. The French ban remains in place.
Some adoption experts argue that instead of foreign adoptions, material support should be given to impoverished parents and extended families who would otherwise give their children to orphanages.
“Raising a child will be much easier in his own environment with his blood relatives,” than outside the country by foreign adoptive parents, Bakker said.