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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cambodia: Where Children Become Tourist Attractions

The organization Friends International has been working hard to shed light on a rather troubling development: so-called ‘orphanage tourism’ in Cambodia. It seems visitors to this formerly war-torn country are increasingly choosing to add an orphanage to their site-seeing itineraries. Tourists arrange to visit, take pictures, and cuddle the children, most of whom are indiscriminately friendly because of the traumas and neglect they have suffered. The ‘beautiful’ experience of having numerous little children swarm you with open arms is not all it seems to be.

Unfortunately, many orphanages in Cambodia are private institutions looking to make good money from these visitors. In fact, many of the orphans have living parents who are poor and desperate enough to have been convinced that their children would be better off in institutions. In fact, they are not given adequate care in these orphanages; there are even reports of children being starved and clothed inadequately in order to make them more pitiable-looking for the tourists who will in turn give big donations to the orphanage. It is an entirely sordid transaction, one that fuels child exploitation by making it profitable.

We can’t help but think about the families who are duped into giving up their children. The poorest families in Cambodia are indeed scared and desperate, and the idea of hucksters exploiting that is extremely distressing. Truly, these parents would not be giving up their children because they do not care for them - quite the opposite, their love would push them into making that ultimate sacrifice. It is yet another face of poverty, and it’s hard to look at.

This is just another phenomenon that encourages us to do more for Cambodian families. If clean water, livelihood opportunities, and education - all solutions to chronic poverty - reach them before the hucksters do, these kind of family tragedies could be prevented.