Orphanage tourism

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.45.48 PMOrphanage tourism is the practice of visiting orphanages for entertainment.

Once upon a time, about 200 years ago, folks used to visit lunatic asylums for a laugh – the loonies were sooooo funny!

The most notorious aspect of Bedlam was its availability to the public. … [F]or many years, Bedlam was run like a zoo, where wealthy patrons could drop a shilling or two to roam the fetid hallways. These visits … made up a significant portion of the hospital’s operating budget.

Image above from Childsafe, a combined NGO campaign raising awareness of the dangers of orphanage tourism

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Bedlam, from Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress – two lady tourists observe mad Tom.

We don’t do that any more. But an awful lot of foreign tourists in Cambodia will visit an orphanage. The orphans are sooooooo cute! And like Bedlam, the visitors provide a handy source of cash.

And money, of course, is the source of evil. (Well actually the Good Book says that the love of money is the source of problems, not the stuff itself, but you get the idea).

Orphan Problem

Just to repeat that, 80% of the world’s orphans are not orphans. They have a parent, or maybe both, and in a country like Cambodia they certainly have grandparents or married siblings or aunts and uncles. They don’t need to be institutionalised. So why are they?

Simple answer: they’re worth more in an orphanage.

Worth more to who? To the people who run the orphanage, of course. Lara Dunstan interviews Tara Winkler of Cambodia Children’s Trust, who is far more respectable than most, and tells you why you should avoid visiting orphanages in Cambodia:

Q. So orphanage tourism is big business?
A. Absolutely. Because there are so many tourists who want to come visit orphanages, it has become very lucrative for orphanages to exist and to be open to tourist visits. This has led to a dramatic rise in the number of orphanages and the number of children being institutionalised unnecessarily. The number of orphanages in Cambodia has almost doubled in recent years, despite the fact that the number of orphans has declined. It’s shocking to realise that the laws of supply and demand apply to the business of orphanages, where children are the commodities and well-meaning foreigners are the customers.


From BestThinking.com – interesting article.

“A dramatic rise in the number of orphanages.” To be specific, there are about 600 of them. Far more than are needed , given that they almost all have families that could support them. Far more expensive, too – it’s far, far cheaper to subsidise a family to keep the child than to institutionalise them.

Institutionalisation – orphanages – help the owners of the orphanages, not the children.

It also damages the children – is it really, honestly, in the best interests of children to be raised without loving  families?

It also (what, another also? ‘Fraid so) destroys Cambodian society. The kid in an orphanage is not in society and doesn’t learn what Cambodian society is all about. Childsafe says:

If you donate to support institutionalized care your good intentions may actually be causing harm to children, keeping them from their family and hampering their development. Most children in institutions do not need to be there. Many institutions are woefully inadequate in providing a duty of care or protection to children. In fact many are run as profit making businesses, pure and simple. The commodity they trade in? Children. The money they source to keep business booming? Yours.

IMG_7075_1Cute Cambodian kid from AlexinWanderland.com – an excellent article.

And no, Virginia, volunteering in an orphanage is not all right. See the lovely temples, have a ride in a tuktuk, visit the Killing Fields, and if you feel you really must do something for those cute Cambodian kids, donate to Childsafe.

Or if you really, really want to think outside the box, don’t donate to Childsafe, just pay a decent fare to that tuktuk driver so he can bring up his kids with a little dignity.