A 50 percent increase in teenage pregnancies and a rise in child marriages in Cambodia are effectively robbing children of their childhoods, according to a Save the Children report released today.
The report cites a dramatic increase in girls becoming pregnant as a key reason for Cambodia’s low ranking in the Stolen Childhood index, along with the fact that almost one in three Cambodian children suffer stunting, almost 23 percent have dropped out of school and one-fifth are involved in child labour.
In terms of a healthy childhood, Cambodia was ranked 117th out of 172 countries, lagging behind Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, with Laos being the only Asean country ranked lower.
Elizabeth Pearce, Save the Children’s country director in Cambodia, said every child had a right to a happy childhood and deserved to reach their full potential.
“But this is not the case for 12 percent of Cambodian teenagers, who become mothers before they themselves have even reached adulthood,” she said.
“It’s a growing trend that is robbing more and more girls in Cambodia of their childhood.”
The study cites an increase in teenage pregnancies in Cambodia – from 8 percent of teenage girls becoming pregnant in 2010 to 12 percent in 2014 – and says it coincides with a rise in marriages of children under the age of 18.
Some provinces saw much higher rates of teen pregnancy than others. Save the Children health specialist Abigail Beeson said in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri, the incidence was more than a third, while a quarter of teenage girls in Stung Treng and Preah Vihear had begun childbearing while they were still in their teenage years.
She said there was momentum to develop the sexual health curriculum in schools to better inform boys and girls.
“There are some moral drivers. In some places, there is still a sense that a ‘good Cambodian girl’ is a girl who doesn’t have sex before marriage, so she may be less inclined to seek information out,” Beeson said.
“But she may find herself in a situation – not raped or forced – but a situation where she ends up having unprotected sex.”
Choub Sok Chamreun, executive director from reproductive health NGO Khana, said education at schools was still very limited and that parents rarely spoke with their children about contraception.
“Sometimes the girl becomes pregnant at a very young age, and because they don’t want to lose face . . . they go to a private clinic for an abortion, which is unsafe,” he said.
Nhep Sopheap, secretary-general at the government’s Cambodia National Council for Children, said she was concerned by the report’s findings.
“The government will look into this report thoroughly ... maybe we can look back into [the implementation of] our law on marriage.”
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda