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Fears tourism putting Cambodian orphans at ri -

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Reporter: Karen Percy

Cambodia has become one of South East Asia's tourism hotspots but an alarming trend is emerging.
Orphanages and the children in them are now becoming a staple of the backpacker itinerary. But in a
country where the child sex trade is out of control, critics fear the practice will attract
paedophiles and put the children at risk.

KERRY O'BRIEN: After decades of warfare, landmine fatalities and the devastating impact of diseases
including AIDS, Cambodia's orphan population is one of the highest in the world.

The country has a growing reputation as one of South East Asia's tourism hot spots, which is good
news for the economy, but there's a downside.

Cambodia's many orphanages are now proving to be a drawcard for well-meaning backpackers keen to
extend a charitable hand.

But in a country where the child sex trade is still rife, human rights campaigners fear paedophiles
could slip through the government net and put the children in some of these orphanages at risk.

The ABC's South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports from Phnom Penh.

KAREN PERCY: About 25,000 Australians visit Cambodia every year. They come for the splendour of
Angkor Wat, the unspoiled countryside and an experience that's easy on the hip pocket. But more and
more of them are looking for something beyond the usual temples and treks.

Damian Roberts and Chelsea Clarke are on a three-week trip from Melbourne. Today they're visiting
the Cambodian Light Children Association, and orphanage in Phnom Penh's depressing inner city
slums.

DAMIAN ROBERTS: We just thought it'd be a nice step away from the usual tourists slog, to actually
have a chance to do something positive.

KAREN PERCY: But nothing has prepared them for what they see. There are more than 100 children
living here in facilities that can be called makeshift at best. And there's little, if any, adult
supervision.

(To Damian Robert) What did you think of facilities in there?

DAMIAN ROBERT: It was a complete shock, certainly far, far more under equipped than I would've
imagined them to be, definitely.

KAREN PERCY: Apart from bringing rice and fruit, the Australian visitors also donate $US35.

CHELSEA CLARKE: I think any contribution is a good thing for tourists to make; it'd be good to see
projects in place in things like that. But I don't think that it's a negative thing.

PAT NOUN, ORPHANAGE DIRECTOR: Right now I want to repair the ceiling, but there is no money, so I
tell all the visitors who are coming here I want them to support to build the ceiling.

KAREN PERCY: Pat Noun is the orphanage director. A former monk, he opened this centre more than a
decade ago. Tourist donations help to keep it going. Last year he spent six months in jail for
sexual abuse, charges that he rejects. And that's just one reason the orphanage is embroiled in
controversy.

DREW MCDOWELL, FORMER VOLUNTEER WORKER: Then it became obvious that things weren't quite right,
there was no accounting practices, the kids were not taken care of.

KAREN PERCY: Until recently, Drew McDowell was a volunteer at the orphanage. He found the centre
through an arranged tour.

(To Drew McDowell) So how many of the guesthouses would be offering these kinds of tours, do you
think?

DREW MCDOWELL: A lot, a lot of guesthouses here, I think most are offering tours or helping to
advertise or selling motor maps.

KAREN PERCY: As time went by, he discovered that tourists were buying rice at four times the going
rate and he alleges that much promised spending on the children just didn't happen.

DREW MCDOWELL: Once they have tourists there, they really work them to get cash donations and talk
about what they want to build and what their projects are with the money, and very tangible things.
So it's a very compelling, but also, you can sort of sense that something's not quite right, the
way the whole operation is working, and the drive for money, putting the kids out there.

KAREN PERCY: 18-year-old brothers Chom Huat and Chom Hua spent several years at the Cambodian Light
Children's Association. They're glad to be out of there. They say they were punished for wanting to
study and to go to school.

CHOM HUAT: When I was in the centre I didn't feel happy at all, for me I faced difficult situations
like that.

KAREN PERCY: The emphasis was on dancing or boxing, the kinds of activities that can make the
orphanage money.

NALY PILORGE, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER: A lot of them do not allow children to go to school. On the
more serious cases, we've got staff and people outside the orphanage exploiting children, both
physical, sexual and also in terms of labour.

KAREN PERCY: The Government here does have regulations in place to govern the way orphanages are
run. But critics say the regulations are there in theory only, that the Government doesn't pay
social workers or officials to enforce the rules, never mind penalise anybody doing the wrong
thing.

GERALDINE COX, SUNRISE CHILDREN'S VILLAGE: It's a third world country where there have to be
conditions for mothers who cannot care for their children.

KAREN PERCY: Australian Geraldine Cox has been in Cambodia for almost 15 years and has won many
accolades for her work with local children. She runs the Sunrise Children's Village outside of
Phnom Penh.

GERALDINE COX: I have heard of some situations where orphanages allow people to take children away
for holidays, and one girl was raped by a married man who had her in the house with his wife, and
she was returned to the orphanage with stories that she'd been raped. Nothing happened to them.

KAREN PERCY: She welcomes tourists, but under strict conditions. Here they have to submit their
passports and they're accompanied by staff members at all times.

Most of these children will never leave the orphanage. Their parents are unlikely to be able to
afford to take them back and many countries won't allow their citizens to adopt Cambodians because
of the corrupt practices in the industry.

GERALDINE COX: There are occasions that I know of myself where a young mother is poor, maybe her
husband's in jail for three months and she can't manage, and somebody will come and offer her $6
for her baby. And three months later when the short term problems over, she can't find her baby.

KAREN PERCY: With the authorities reluctant to act on these issues, it's left to the centres to
walk the line between protecting the children and providing for them.

GERALDINE COX: If we didn't have tourists coming here on a regular basis, a lot of our funding
would dry up, and it's a source for us to show people what we do and get them interested and
inspired to donate.

NALY PILORGE, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER: I think travellers and people from the outside and
Cambodians need to rethink about what it means to institutionalise children and what it means to
give money. This is not what we want or children need.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Karen Percy with that report.