Ethical Traveler: Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia

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Travelers to Cambodia, where one-third of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, discern quickly the swelling canyon between wealth and poverty. Ethical concerns arise though when visitors go in search of low-income communities. “Slum tourism” is the phenomenon of travelers seeking out poverty-stricken populations in order to witness how the poor live. In Cambodia, where the number of orphanages has doubled over the past decade, there’s a burgeoning trend of “orphanage tourism.”

Children approach travelers on the street, offering them the chance to tour a local orphanage. At the close of the visit, children solicit donations. Should a visitor choose to give, the exchange, though seemingly charitable, may be doing more harm than good.

Because some orphanages function largely off of money from visitors, directors of these organizations recognize the potential currency in manufacturing a desperate situation regardless of the orphanage’s actual financial standing. Poorly clad and unwashed children generate more donations.

When traveling in Cambodia, giving money might mean reinforcing the ill treatment of children. In lieu of donating to orphanages, the team over at Ethical Traveler recommends supporting families who need help caring for their children by investing in family and community services. Check out additional recommendations, plus a longer discussion on the complexities of “orphanage tourism” here.

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