Child Protection and Development

The situation analysis of vulnerable children in the COCD target areas and in Cambodia more generally, was developed following an extensive literature search of key documents outlining the situation for these children, consultations with key donors, NGO partners, local authorities, COCD staff, managers and board, and importantly, the children and their families in our target areas. (See Appendix 9 Situation of Vulnerable Children Summary for more detail of consultation/desk research results).

Key data on children in Cambodia reveals alarming social disparities between children who live in rural and urban areas in terms of access to basic health services, education, clean water and sanitation, and protective services. As a result of poverty, inequality and social exclusion, many children do not enjoy their basic human rights and are vulnerable to, or experience abuse as a result. The situational analysis identified that a significant proportion of children in the COCD target areas are experiencing or are at significant risk of abuse and exploitation. Compelling evidence was found clearly demonstrating that these children are being exposed to harms such as violence, exploitation, health problems, a lack of access to development opportunities, poverty and high rates of migration which lead to environments that do not enable the protection and care of children.

In 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made numerous comments and recommendations about the situation of children in Cambodia in their Concluding Observations. The comments that most closely relate to the work of COCD include:

• The Committee expresses deep concern that domestic violence against women and children, including sexual violence remains an acute problem. The Committee is concerned that Prakas enabling commune and village officials to act in order to protect victims of domestic violence have not yet been issued and that there is no child protection system.
• The Committee is further concerned that domestic and gender-based violence continues to be socially accepted and widely tolerated by law enforcement authorities
• The Committee is concerned at the limited availability, accessibility, quality and utilization of health services especially in remote areas
• The Committee expresses serious concern about the high proportion of adolescent with problems of substance abuse, including alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Other concerns regarding adolescents relate to workplace accidents and injuries, HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive health problems. The Committee is further deeply concerned that suicides were the leading cause of adolescent deaths in 2009
• The Committee, while noting the adoption of a National Strategy for the Poor and Vulnerable (NSPS), is however concerned that in spite of significant and sustained economic growth over the past decade, the benefits of this growth have not been distributed equitably, with a third of the population still living below the poverty line and only one fifth of the population of rural areas having access to sanitation.
• The Committee expresses concern that only 1.9% of the GDP is spent on education and that education expenditure has dropped since 2007
• While noting the adoption of the National Plan of Action on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the State party’s commitment to reduce the number of working children to eight percent by 2015 under its Millennium Development Goals and to end all the worst forms of child labour by 2016, the Committee expresses concern that over 1.5 million of children are economically active in the State party and that around 250,000 children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour.
• The Committee expresses deep concern that thousands of children are exploited into prostitution in the State party and that rape of children is on the rise
• The Committee is concerned that a high number of women and children continue to be trafficked from, through and within the country for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. The Committee is also concerned about the low number of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers.

Child Protection and Development
Data gathered highlighted that very high rates of child abuse and/or exploitation are present in COCD targets. Whilst accurate statistics for rates of child abuse and exploitation are very difficult to collect at district level, consistent reports through COCD’s consultations with children, families and local service providers confirm that domestic violence, child abuse and exploitation in the forms of child trafficking and child labour are significant problems in each COCD target area. In all three districts, there are very few processes/systems in place that are able to protect children. The authorities in charge of ensuring that vulnerable children are identified, monitored and supported; unfortunately do not have the capacity currently to implement their roles effectively. Constraints include lack of resources, training, knowledge and skills in the protection and care of vulnerable children.

When seeking feedback from all stakeholders about their priorities (children, families, local stakeholders, staff and donors) all highlighted the need to address child abuse and exploitation. The development of children through formal and informal education means was also prioritized by stakeholders.

Children are at risk of dropping out of school and engaging in child labour such as working as child laborers in the agriculture sector, child domestic workers, stone breakers in the mountains, going into the forest for wild animal hunting and illegal logging, illegally migrating to other countries to work as beggars etc to contribute to their family’s earnings. It is reported that some of the children who have dropped out of school, are aged 12-17 years old, and are involved with child labour. The ILO in its Towards eliminating the worst forms of child labour in Cambodia by 2016 ‘report, anticipates that children in Kampot will be at greater risk of being lured into the dangerous fishing and salt production industries due to these industries operating at a large scale in this province. Pursat is home to a large number of brick manufacturers, suppliers of agricultural machinery, and handicrafts producers. Pursat is particularly famous for its marble sculptures, making it more likely that children could engage in stone-breaking work.

Cambodia has been identified as a source, transit and destination country for victims of trafficking. In addition to prostitution and begging, trafficking is also reported to occur in the areas of construction, fishing, logging, factory work and agriculture. There is scarce information on trafficking in relation to labour exploitation, particularly since it also tends to involve youth migrants who often have illegal status and are unable to file complaints against employers. It is believed that abuses do take place, such as failing to pay salaries, forcing workers to function under dangerous or hazardous conditions, and obliging them to work long hours, including through the use of drugs. One of the serious problems identified with the issue of trafficking is the lack of effective law enforcement, although some improvements related to anti-trafficking efforts are reported.

It is estimated that 2,000 children cross the border every day into Thailand, where they engage in manual labour or begging. A study conducted by Friends International on child beggars in Bangkok found that the large majority are not trafficked or controlled by gangs, but are often small children migrating with their parents or other relatives. It is difficult to ascertain the size of the problem and whether it is increasing or decreasing. It seems evident that issues of human trafficking and migration are closely related. The lack of economic opportunity in rural Cambodia and the prospect of high earnings drive many children to town and border cities in search of a livelihood.

Children at different ages have different developmental needs and are facing different challenges. The different stages of childhood need to be taken into account when developing programs that are relevant and effective. The key issues for children have therefore been outlined according to three broad age groupings: preschool, primary school aged and youth.

Pre-school aged
The Cambodian General Population Census 2008 found that 10% of the total population is aged under 5. In the provinces serviced by COCD, these percentages are: Pursat – 10.78% and Kampot 10.10%.

Under five mortality is a significant concern for Cambodia. UNICEF reports consistently find that the health of a child is directly related to the education levels of the mother. The under-five mortality rates were 54 deaths per 1,000 in 2010. (CDHS: 2010). Many young children are dying from respiratory diseases with higher proportions of ARI symptoms being among children aged 6 to 11 months and 12 to 23 months (8 and 9 per cent respectively) than other age groups. Younger children aged 6 to 23 months being more likely to suffer from diarrhea than older children. Nationally, 40 percent of children under age 5 are stunted due to malnutrition, and 14 percent are severely stunted (2010 CDHS). NGOCRC in 2009 found that feeding practices for babies and young children in Cambodia favoured boys to the detriment of girls. Two other major causes of preventable deaths in young children are road accidents and drowning. Toddlers are dying in road accidents as pedestrians and children under four years of age account for a large majority of drowning deaths. (UNICEF: 2007)

In Cambodia, there is a significant lack of Early Childcare and development programs. Studies indicate that children with uneducated mothers living in remote areas and not attending any early childhood program had the lowest levels of developmental functioning. According to CDB Online 2010 the Preschool enrolment rates in COCD areas are the following: Phnom Kravanh – 15.8%; Veal Veng – 6.66%; Chhuk – 19.97%. The national average preschool enrolment rate was 13% in 2010 according to the World Bank.

Primary School Aged

According to the Cambodian General Population Census 2008, 10.98% of Cambodia’s population fits in the 5 – 9 year age group. In Pursat, 11.60% and in Kampot 11.98% of children are aged 5 – 9. 12.47% of Cambodia’s children are aged 10 – 14 years. In Pursat and Kampot, these percentages are 13.38% and 13.41% respectively.

According to the World Bank, the adjusted net enrolment rate for primary aged students in Cambodia was 98% in 2011. Whilst this is a promising achievement, the rates in COCD target areas are still lagging behind. According to CDB Online 2010, the rates are: Phnom Kravanh – 84.97%; Veal Veng – 72.39%; Chhuk – 86.3%. In Veal Veng for example, the proportion of girls not attending school from minority tribes in much lower than the general population – as high as 42.9% in some villages (CDB Online 2010). In the 2008/2009 school year, nearly half of children in remote areas admitted to grade one were over the age of six, compared to 29 per cent in urban areas (UNICEF Education Cambodia pamphlet).

Various reports provide reasons frequently given for not attending school as being the need to contribute to household income and need to help with household chores. Apparently the bottleneck is mainly in the upper years of primary education when costs become barriers to the continued attendance of children from poor families. The absence of a suitable school, and the distance to schools being too great are other reasons. Parental concern about security is high in remote areas where children are forced to travel long distances along desolate roads to get to school. In the poorer rural and remote areas, over-age admission and enrolment to primary school are most prevalent. Many students are not likely to complete primary education and not able to make the transition to lower secondary school. This is of particular concern in remote areas. The leading causes of death for children in this age group are: drowning, ARI, Diarrhea, Seizures, Tetanus/ Meningitis and road traffic accidents. (UNICEF: 2007)


With young people between 10-24 comprising 36 per cent of the population, Cambodia has the youngest populations in Southeast Asia. The Cambodian General Population Census 2008 identified that 12.09% of Cambodians are aged 15 – 19. In Pursat, this group makes up 13.46% and in Kampot, there is 12.04% of 15 – 19 year olds.

Despite recent rapid economic growth, there simply are not enough jobs for youth. Young people whilst representing the largest portion of the population do not have their needs, perspectives and concerns represented and reflected in national and subnational development priorities and budget. The health, education and employment issues confronting Cambodian youth today are highly interrelated. Young men and women leaving rural communities for urban employment are exposed to a wide range of issues and problems, including alcohol and drug abuse, gang violence, crime, rape and gang membership.

Teenage pregnancy and early marriage is an additional issue that relates to this developmental stage. In Cambodia, 8 per cent of young women aged 15 to 19 have begun childbearing. Teenage pregnancy is higher among girls with no schooling compared to those with a primary school education and much lower among those with a secondary or higher education. Adolescent mothers are more likely to die from child birth than older women. Also, particularly amongst minority tribes, girls are likely to marry early.