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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

UNICEF Concern Prompts Cambodian Investigation of Orphanages

Cambodian orphans play together as they wait for adoption at Kien Klaing orphanage center in Phnom Penh, (File)

The Cambodian government has begun investigating the country’s orphanages; just days after the United Nations Children's Fund expressed its concerns that nearly three out of four children in the country's orphanages have at least one living parent.

Earlier this week, UNICEF said most of the 12,000 children in Cambodia’s orphanages are, in fact, not orphans. Nearly three-quarters of them have one living parent, yet the number of children in care has more than doubled in five years.

UNICEF said the number of orphanage centers has nearly doubled, to 269 facilities in the same period.

Just 21 of those are run by the government. The rest are funded and run by foreign donors and faith-based organizations.


UNICEF country head, Richard Bridle, told VOA he is concerned many centers have turned to tourism to attract funding and that, by doing so, they put children at risk.

Bridle says even the best-intentioned tourists and volunteers are funding a system that is helping to separate children from their families.

International studies have shown that children are better off in a family or community setting.
That also happens to be a much cheaper way of caring for them, says Sebastien Marot, the founder of Phnom Penh’s respected street kids organization called Friends International, which was established 17 years ago.

Money-making venture

Marot says the figures from UNICEF indicate a serious problem: Either there is a misconception about stability in Cambodia in the 21st century, or "unscrupulous people" are engaging in a charity business and using children to make money.

"We have been working 17 years and we haven’t placed kids in an orphanage. And, we are working with the most marginalized kids that have the most difficult families. We haven’t placed any in an orphanage in eight years, except for heavily disabled or very, very sick, because the families are really in no capacity for taking care of them. And, that is the real situation," Marot said.

Marot acknowledges that most tourists going to orphanages are acting out of pure motives when they visit the children and give money.

But he says there is little doubt that some Cambodian orphanages have been set up to make money from foreign tourists.

Visitors to Cambodia’s tourist centers of Phnom Penh, the temple city, Siem Reap and the beach resort, Sihanoukville, are regularly bombarded with pleas to visit orphanages.

Marot’s advice is that tourists should behave as they would at home.

"The real question is: Would you do this in your own country? No. Have you ever visited an orphanage in your own country? No. Why? Because an orphanage is a safe place for kids and has to have a child protection system - it is to protect those children," Marot noted. “They are already totally vulnerable. Having people coming from outside is just not acceptable."

A spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, which is carrying out the inspections, admitted this week that the government does not know whether the thousands of children in care are being treated well or badly.

The spokesman says it is unclear how long it will take to inspect all 269 orphanages, but promises that those found to be sub-standard or in contravention of the law will be closed.

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Indonesia not wanted, Prayuth insists

Observers from Indonesia are not needed to solve the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha insists.

Thai military leaders have also proposed that Thailand and Cambodia set up joint checkpoints to secure the disputed area.

"A third country or any other country must not get involved. Thailand and Cambodia can talk.

He repeated the stance taken by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and armed forces chiefs. They want the Foreign Ministry to tell Cambodia they do not want any observers from Indonesia, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), to get involved in bilateral border issues.

"I do not reject observers but I do not think they are necessary because we can solve the problem ourselves.

"If observers finally come, I will keep them on the outside.

"Why should they enter the strategic area? That is dangerous. If observers are there, can they prevent Cambodia from violating the 2000 MoU?

This is the point," Gen Prayuth said, referring to the Thai-Cambodian memorandum of understanding on bilateral demarcation.

Indonesia proposed a compromise solution on Feb 22 to try to solve the border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia by sending 15 of its observers to each side of the border near the Preah Vihear temple.

The army chief also insisted that the next meeting of the General Border Committee (GBC) would happen in a bilateral manner. He said it was the turn of Cambodia to organise the GBC but if Cambodia was not ready to host it, Thailand could do so.

Meanwhile, the world heritage body Unesco is sending an urgent mission to examine Preah Vihear temple after it was damaged in border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia.

"I intend to send a mission to the area as soon as possible," Unesco's head Irina Bokova said on Tuesday.

Ms Bokova called for "calm and restraint" around the Preah Vihear temple, which suffered damage during recent fighting.

"World Heritage sites are the heritage of all humanity and the international community has a special responsibility to safeguard them," she said.

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Fuel Smuggling Grips Region

A gasoline and diesel black market thrives in Burma, while an illicit border fuel trade haunts Vietnam and Cambodia.

People in Burma are grappling with a serious fuel shortage on the back of surging gasoline and diesel prices, but the commodity is being smuggled into China for higher prices there.

Compounding the problem is a black market for fuel in Burma itself, with residents having to wait for hours and dig deeper into their pockets to pay for daily supplies.

The higher fuel prices have sent food costs soaring, hurting average consumers in this impoverished military-ruled nation.

"Diesel is being smuggled out to China from Burma, because the oil price in China is going up. Three months ago, gasoline was smuggled to China, but it is diesel now," said a resident from Muse, a Burmese town along the porous border with China.

He said that only people "who have connections to the authorities" can transport the fuel across the border, suggesting corruption is driving the illicit trade.

Fuel is a sensitive issue in Burma. In 2007, when gas prices soared, monks took to the streets of Rangoon to protest in what became known as the "Saffron" revolution, drawing thousands of people. The revolt was put down by security forces who killed at least 31 people and beat and detained hundreds.

Burma's neighbors are also reeling from higher fuel prices that have led to smuggling amid concerns that sweeping unrest in the Middle East and Africa will limit oil production and send oil prices even higher. Some countries provide subsidies to cushion costs.

Queue up

A truck filled with gas tanks passes a roadside gasoline stand in Rangoon, Feb. 22, 2011.

In the former capital Rangoon, the country's key commercial center, motor vehicles often have to queue up for miles overnight to get gasoline.

"You have to be in line for at least three hours to get gasoline from the gas station. Because of the gas price hike, all commodities prices are skyrocketing," a Rangoon resident said.

A street vendor selling fried rice said, "I sell fried rice for 300 kyat (about 30 cents) per plate. Trishaw [motorized three-wheeled cab] drivers told me they can't buy my food anymore, as they can't afford it."

A resident in Mandalay, Burma's second-largest city, said gasoline prices shot up from 4,000 kyat to 4,800 kyat (U.S. $4.00 to U.S. $5.00) within a week. Street vendors who buy and sell gasoline are being pursued by police."

A resident from Maubin in the rice-growing Irrawaddy division said that gas stations open at around 8 a.m.

Half an hour later, he said, prices rise far above official levels.

"We have to pay street price after 8:30 a.m. All gas stations in Maubin are owned by Ayeyar Shwewah company, a company run by two sons of Shwe Mann, who is a current Parliamentary chairman, so nobody dares to complain."

Vietnam, Cambodia

In Vietnam, fuel is siphoned off and smuggled across the border to Cambodia to cash in on the higher prices, while gasoline smuggling from Thailand to Cambodia is also common.

A Vietnamese man calling himself Chi, who has long done business in Cambodia, said gas smuggling is a "daily business" in Cambodia.

"They smuggle gas to Cambodia via sea, then on land. That is for big business. But for small shipments, people smuggle over the land border, so much that we don’t know how much gas is smuggled to Cambodia every day."

Xaymun, a Cambodian woman, said gas prices jumped recently.

“I have heard that gas is brought here from Vietnam. I heard that the authorities could catch the smugglers, but then they get bribed and they let the smugglers go.”

Operating hours

Vietnamese authorities plan to limit the operating hours of filling stations along the border to only 12 hours beginning from 6 a.m. to combat smuggling.

Vehicles traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia will be allowed to buy enough fuel to travel only 50 to 100 kilometers (31 to 62 miles) under the plan, according to the VietNamNet Newspaper report.

Reported by the RFA Burmese, Cambodian, and Vietnamese services. Translation by Khin May Zaw, Viet Ha, and Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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Cambodia Appreciates Cuban Support, Says Foreign Minister

HAVANA, Cuba, Mar 23 (acn) The Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hor Namhong, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, expressed the gratitude of his country for the Cuban support during several decades.

Hor Namhong, who was received by the Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, affirmed that the bilateral relations between these two countries are in excellent conditions; whereas, his Cuban counterpart agreed by saying that such links are “historical and deep-rooted”.

The Cambodian diplomat noted that Cuba has supported this Asian nation in different fields, and mentioned that this cooperation dates back to the most tragic period in the history of Cambodia, referring to the US aggression against Viet Nam (1959-1975), which involved Laos and Cambodia.

Rodriguez appreciated the solidarity of Cambodia with Cuba, essentially in the struggle, within the United Nations, against the US economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed against Cuba for more than five decades.

Namhong, who was the Cambodian ambassador to Cuba from 1973 to 1975, is in official visit to Cuba for the second time. The first one was in 2006, when he headed the Cambodian delegation to the 14 th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Cuba has cooperated with Cambodia, with more than 14 million inhabitants, in the field of education for several years.

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Cambodia concerned about labour trafficking

The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for a crackdown on labour trafficking and urged Cambodians to seek employment opportunities at home.

The call comes as the government itself faces scrutiny over its regulation of so-called training centres for Cambodians seeking work abroad.

Human rights groups say the centres hold poor Cambodian women against their will, while they wait to be sent overseas for domestic work.

Reporter: Alma Mistry
Speakers: Mathieu Pellerin, consultant with Cambodian human rights group Licadho; Nilim Baruah, chief technical advisor, International Labour Organisation, Bangkok.

MISTRY: The United Nations says Cambodia is a source and a destination for sex work and forced labour. It's also a pool of cheap labour for its larger neighbours Thailand and Malaysia. In 2004, there were over 180,000 Cambodian workers registered in Thailand, according to the International Labour Organisation. In addition, the ILO estimates there were over 80,000 unregistered or illegal workers. Mathieu Pellerin from the Cambodian human rights group Licadho says the rural poor have limited options to find work in the countryside.

PELLERIN: The number of opportunities to find work in Cambodia is very low. So I don't think we could call these people opportunists- the risks of migration to find employment to in a foreign country is very high.

MISTRY: Matthieu Pellerin says workers are often sought out by recruiters who make offers that may be attractive to poor families in the villages.

PELLERIN: Basically misrepresenting what the job will be, luring the families to accepting to give one or some of their daughters to go and work in foreign countries through these recruitment agencies. And there's also a loan that is offered to family by company, roughly 100 dollars, so its a very simple form of debt bondage.

MISTRY: It's these recruiters that have come under scrutiny, after accidents and deaths involving women at a so called pre-departure centre in Phnom Penh this month. Matthieu Pellerin says it's not uncommon for women to be confined to the centres for months, with their requests to see their families ignored.

PELLERIN: There was one woman who after spending more than five months in the pre-departure centre of a recruitment agency called T and P and has requested many times to visit her children and after five months, she decided to try leaving the compound from the third floor window and fell on the ground. Four days later in that same company, a woman died. 35 year old woman died and the official cause of death the police declared, was heart attack, which could be questioned.

MISTRY: After the death Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Anti-Corruption Unit to look into the growing sector of recruitment. On Monday he also called on relevant local authorities to crack down on illegal labour brokers. But critics say the incidents highlight a weak system of regulation for the recruitment of exported labour from Cambodia. It's a criticism that the International Labour Organisation, which has been working with the Cambodian government, can't ignore. Nilim Baruah is the Chief Technical Advisor with the ILO in Bangkok.

BARUAH: There's enough experience to say what kind of laws should be put in place, what kind of regulations regarding cost of recruitment and transperancy regarding cost and also what kind of complaint mechanisms there should be. There can be a much better regulatory system in place but I mean in the case of Cambodia they dont really have it now. They are starting to put it in place.

MISTRY: Nilim Baruah says the Cambodian Government is working to legislate better protections for migrant workers. But he says job creation, must be the overall priority.

BARUAH: In the ILO while we promote protection of migrant workers and safe migration we emphasise first of all job creation where people so jobs should be created where people are and people, the migration choice should not be a compelling one, it should be an option.
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