“People don’t have bad intentions, they just don’t have the right information.”
These are the words of Jedtha, CCT’s Governance Director, who travels throughout communities in Battambang increasing awareness of the negative impacts of putting children in institutions and promoting alternatives like supporting family-based care.
“When I talked about the negative impact of institutions on children, everybody was very surprised and sad because they never heard about the harms of institutionalising children before,” Jedtha says.
When children in Cambodia are removed from their families and put in institutions like orphanages, it’s often in response to a crisis situation or because their parents are struggling to provide for them. Though often done with the best of intentions, this greatly harms children who are deprived of the family environment they need to develop to their full potential.
Although the Cambodian government’s policy says that institutions must be a last resort and only a temporary solution for children, it is often not enforced. This is partly due to a lack of awareness amongst both the government and the general public of the policy and also of the harm that comes from putting children in institutions.
Raising awareness and changing deeply entrenched beliefs is challenging and takes time. Jedtha knows this well, as he meets regularly with key stakeholders at the local level to promote good ‘gatekeeping’ – that is, ways to keep children from entering orphanages in the first place, including family and community services which can help prevent family separation.
Recently, Jedtha held a meeting with members of the Commune Committee for Women and Children, village and commune leaders, police officers, social workers in government, and members of civil society.
“Local government officials believe that institutions like orphanages are the best way to improve the lives of children and their families. Most people in Cambodia believe the same – this is why there is such a big push towards separating children from their families and putting them into care. But after hearing about these issues at CCT’s meetings, people want to learn more about the alternatives to institutions because they really want to improve the community and help the children.”
Though many government officials already work to strengthen families and ensure children are protected and their needs are met, there is still a lot of work left to make sure all children can grow up in families. By raising awareness on the benefits and feasibility of keeping Cambodian children in families and out of institutions, CCT strengthens local systems to prevent children from entering institutions in the first place.
And the positive impact is already being seen.
“In the communes where we held awareness-raising meetings, we have seen a decrease in the number of children being institutionalised. There is one commune made up of six villages that has had no children going into institutions since we held the meeting.”