Experts Dispute British Claims of Orphan Crisis

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.

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