By traditional definition of the word, children in orphanages are assumed to have no parents or no living relative willing or able to take care of them. Unfortunately, in Cambodia and other places with a booming orphanage sector, that is not true in the majority of cases.

Some of the most enterprising and unsafe orphanages, designed as businesses for their owners, pay families to allow their cutest and youngest children to live in the orphanage and help them bring in more funds. But in many cases, the act of putting a child into an orphanage is not a malicious act but rather a sincere belief that the opportunities there are better for the child. The notion that the orphanage will be better able to feed and care for their children is often “sold” to them by orphanage owners.

Many Cambodian families are poor and vulnerable, particularly in single-parent families living in rural areas. When parents are told of opportunities available in cities, or that their children will be taught by visiting foreigners, who some believe to be wealthier or better educated, they often place their child in the care of the orphanage in the hopes of a better life for their child. Some believe that putting children in these orphanages gives them a better chance in life than being with their parents, families, or communities, but studies have shown that this is not usually the case.

Even in the case of the best intentioned orphanages, often run by foreigners looking to “help the poor”, the belief that the children are better off in their care than that of their parents is an assumption rarely questioned. The most vulnerable families believe this to be true when they see the wealth of the orphanages, and though they know the family bonds will be broken or damaged, defer to the wealthy “benefactors”, allowing their children to be taken away. Most families are never informed that there are
alternative options, like Family preservation support, which is viewed around the world as a better and cheaper option, and which would allow them keep continue to live with their children.