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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Child health among world's worst

Child health among world's worst

C AMBODIAN children's health is among the worst in the world, according to an United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report.

The mortality rate for children aged under 5 was estimated at 184 per 1000 children - though some reports put it as high as 220 per 1000 - and was considerably higher than its South-east Asian neighbors.

The comparative rates for Laos, Vietnam and Thailand were respectively 141, 48 and 33 per 1000 children.

Cambodia's infant mortality rate was estimated at 117 per 1000.

The number of women who died while having babies was between 500 and 900 per 100,000 births - approaching the world's highest rate, in Somalia, of 1100.

Key health problems for Cambodian children were diarrhea causing dehydration, respiratory infections and malaria. Only 6 per cent of children with diarrhea, for example, were treated with oral rehydration to prevent dehydration.

UNICEF estimated only 53 per cent of the country's population had access to health services, 14 per cent to adequate sanitation and 36 per cent to safe water.

Health problems caused by poor living standards and health care were likely to grow more common because of Cambodian women's high fertility rate - on average each woman has 4.5 births.

In total, more than 25 per cent of Cambodian children were classified as "at risk" by the report.

One huge danger to them was landmines, with nearly a quarter of all mine victims estimated to be children.

Many children were orphans or had lost a parent, reflecting Cambodia's history of war and disease.

Of Cambodia's more than 200,000 orphans, only 2500 were living in state institutions.

The majority of them had never attended school, and many lived on the streets.

The UNICEF report made special mention of the number of street children and the exploitation of such children and others.

Cambodia's emergence from international isolation, with expanding business and tourism sectors, as well as a rapid increase in urban populations, had created an environment which favored the exploitation of children for illegal work and prostitution.

Cambodia had joined the list of more than 30 developing nations which reported sexual abuse of children by foreigners from near and far.

Tony Culnane, World Vision International's street kids program manager in Phnom Penh, said street children being sexually abused remained a problem.

For many, accepting money for sex was a matter of survival, he said.

Others resorted to begging, collecting plastic and other junk, pickpocketing or stealing motorcycles or car parts.

The money they could earn, while not much more than $1.5 a day, was still "competitive" with government employees' salaries of $15-20 a month.

Culnane said many street children were cheated by being offered work as cleaners, house-keepers and salespeople and later sold into prostitution.

World Vision estimated the number of street kids in Phnom Penh had increased from 8000 to 10,000 in the past year.

A 1992 UNICEF survey estimated that 84 per cent of street children in Phnom Penh and Battambang came from the provinces. Seventy per cent of them had lost one parent, and a quarter had fled violence at home.

Forty per cent were living on the streets day and night, while the majority went onto the streets to earn money to supplement their family income.

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