Violence against children cost Cambodia approximately $168 million in 2013, or just over 1 per cent of GDP, according to a new report from the government and UNICEF that explores the economic impacts of physical abuse.
Titled The economic burden of health consequences of violence against children, the study, which closely mirrors a regional study released by UNICEF in June, said that violence against youngsters costs Cambodia $83.3 million per year in lost productivity alone.
“Children who experience violence will not want to continue to study, nor will they want to find an income for their family,” said Ing Kantha Phavi, minister of women’s affairs. “Later on, it will affect their whole life, the economics of their family and of the country as a whole.”
The report was a wake-up call for the government, she added.
“We trusted UNICEF to research this report, and the results alert the government to the need to make more effort against violence to children,” she said.
Sy Dephin, a secretary at the ministry, added that it was unlikely the annual cost of the problem had reduced since 2013.
“So we all must take care about this,” she said. “We do not want to see our country lose so much money due to violence against children.”
But according to UNICEF’s Debora Comini, physical cruelty against the young is indeed rife in Cambodia.
“One in 20 girls and boys is sexually assaulted, one in four children is subjected to severe emotional violence, and one in two children is severely beaten,” she said.
Health consequences of violence were intimately linked to longer-term economic impacts.
“The study we are launching today tells us that childhood violence can have lifelong negative health, social and economic consequences for survivors, including an adverse impact on brain development, behavioural problems, mental and health conditions, education and future income,” Comini added.
A leading human rights group raised concerns about the Cambodia government’s failures to address the violence against children documented in the report.
“It is the inaction of the Cambodian government on violence against children that has obviously prompted UNICEF to think creatively about how to get the message through to Phnom Penh policy makers in a way that will make them care,” said Phil Robertson, spokesman for NGO Human Rights Watch.
“If the Cambodian government only cares about money and economic growth, then that’s a sad commentary how little it cares about protecting the rights of children.”
Additional reporting by Jamie Elliott