Heightening the risk of neglect, abuse and child trafficking, nearly 40 percent of the country’s orphanages were unregistered according to a comprehensive mapping exercise carried out last year, a report released on Thursday in Phnom Penh says.
Amid mounting pressure to reform the country’s orphanages, the Social Affairs Ministry demanded in 2015 that all orphanages register with the government and adhere to a set of standards. It shuttered 56 last year that failed to comply.
Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth announced on Thursday that of 639 residential facilities—which include transit accommodation and pagodas—406 were permanent institutions that together house 16,579 children.
Thirty-eight percent of those, or 156 facilities, had not been registered or inspected, he said.
Speaking at the report’s release, Unicef’s country representative Debora Comini said the high percentage of unregistered institutions was concerning.
“Children living in unregulated and uninspected institutions are more at risk of neglect, as well as physical and sexual abuse, and even trafficking,” she said.
Under a Unicef-supported action plan, Cambodia aims to return 30 percent of children in residential care—about 3,500—to their families by next year.
The plan’s success would depend on social workers, Ms. Comini said after the presentation, but currently they are all provided or sponsored by NGOs rather than the state.
“In the long term, Cambodia should have sufficient public servants that work as social workers,” she said.
Unicef spokeswoman Iman Morooka said NGOs had allocated 34 social workers for reintegration, but that the government should help increase that number.
“The case of each child will vary, and that is why it is critical to have sufficient trained social workers who are able to…follow up on each case effectively,” she said in an email.
Since the beginning of last year, 250 children and 80 youths have been reintegrated, she said.
Sebastien Marot, executive director of the NGO Friends International, said the program would “fall flat” if the government did not begin to take the reins.