Cambodia’s orphan business

People & Power goes undercover to reveal how ‘voluntourism’ could be fuelling the exploitation of Cambodian children.

Between the 1970s and 1990s, Cambodia was ravaged by civil war. Since its return to peace there has been a boom in tourism with over two million visitors every year. Keen to help this war-torn country, increasing numbers of tourists are now also working as volunteers. Most come with the very best of intentions – to work in schools and orphanages, filling a gap left by a lack of development funding.

But, inadvertently, well-intentioned volunteers have helped to create a surge in the number of residential care homes as impoverished parents are tempted into giving up their children in response to promises of a Western-style upbringing and education. Despite a period of prosperity in the country, the number of children in orphanages has more than doubled in the past decade, and over 70 per cent of the estimated 10,000 ‘orphans’ have at least one living parent.

And perhaps most disturbingly, stories have emerged that Cambodian children are being exploited by some of the companies organising the volunteers or running the orphanages.

Reporter Juliana Ruhfus and director Matt Haan travel to Phnom Penh to investigate this phenomenon and end up as ‘undercover volunteers’ in a failing orphanage. Their resulting film for People & Power, Cambodia’s Orphan Business, reveals how ‘voluntourism’ – the fastest-growing sector of one of the fastest-growing care industries in the world – is fuelling a high-profit volunteering business that sees volunteers’ dreams exploited and Cambodian children separated from their families.

More about this film on the Al Jazeera English website.

1 Comment

  1. 7 Things I Wish I Knew About International Volunteering Before Spending a Year Doing It — MovingForward
    March 11, 2014

    […] Most international volunteer opportunities cost a lot of money . This is an immediate red flag that your support is not needed, only your money is. Instead of doing work that helps their mission, you’ll be treated to experiences designed to get your money. In a best case scenario, you’ll create dependencies on philanthropic contributions, in a worst case, you’ll unknowingly support crime, as uncovered in this article about the Cambodia Orphan Business. […]