The deadline for the country’s orphanages to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs has been extended once again as the government continues its monthslong efforts to begin regulating the residential child care system.
Just 10 institutions took advantage of the latest grace period, though the number could increase when provincial social affairs departments submit registration documents, said Ros Sokha, director of child welfare at the ministry.
Less than 60 percent of known residential facilities—374 of 641—have submitted the forms since the registration rules were announced in September as part of an initiative launched with support from Unicef.
The overhaul aims for all such facilities to meet minimum standards and encourage the return of children to relatives whenever possible. More than 75 percent of the children in Cambodia’s residential centers have a living parent, according to a 2012 study by Unicef and the Social Affairs Ministry.
When the sub-decree was disseminated in December, officials said orphanages that failed to notify the ministry of their existence by March 11 would face closure. That deadline was then extended to late May. But Mr. Sokha said on Tuesday it was unlikely that unregistered centers would be shut down, even if they miss the latest deadline, which he set for the end of the week.
“If some of them do not send the documents to us, we will go down and inspect them and see what the problem is,” he said.
Bruce Grant, chief of child protection for Unicef Cambodia, said on Tuesday that the organization supported the latest extension.
“The process is essential for ensuring that all residential care facilities are properly identified and can be registered later to legally operate a residential care service,” Mr. Grant said.
Sebastien Marot, executive director of Friends International, an NGO that promotes community-based care, said it was important for the ministry to have a clear understanding of the number of institutions in the country.
“I think it’s a good thing at this stage that the ministry gives everyone a chance to register because it will give us a much larger view of the field,” he said. “The ministry will have a good view of who is operating where and how.”
While the the process should not be extended indefinitely, Mr. Marot said that punishing institutions that do not comply could prove difficult.
“Will this change anything? That is a really big question,” he said. “Because if you’re not registered with the ministry, how will they fine you?”