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Senior citizens take on larger child care role for grandkids

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A grandmother caring for her grandchildren in Kratie province in May. Hong Menea

Senior citizens take on larger child care role for grandkids

One of the most striking demographic trends underway in the Kingdom’s post-Covid period is the increased number of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren while their adult children go elsewhere to work, whether that’s in Phnom Penh or across the border to Thailand or beyond.

Although the exact figures aren’t well-established, one study by the NGO World Vision Cambodia estimated that at least one-third of Cambodia’s seniors are caring for grandchildren and according to the Ministry of Labour, there are over 1.2 million Cambodians across the border working in Thailand right now, indicating the huge scope of this issue.

Aside from the pandemic, the most commonly cited reason for this practice is debt from personal loans taken from banks and microfinance institutions, but according to a report issued by the Cambodian Migrant Workers Foundation the reality is that these parents need to work whether they are in debt or not and it’s the lack of good paying job prospects closer to home that is the primary driver of this practice, which is creating new burdens to be faced by Cambodia’s senior citizens.

“If we had some choice, then of course grandmothers would not raise their grandchildren, it is very difficult to take care of them at our age and sometimes we’re even met with reproach by our grown children for not taking good care of their children for them,” said a grandmother living in Kampong Cham province who is now in charge of caring for three of her grandchildren.

Neou Srey, 60, is now taking care of her three grandchildren because she has no other choice since her children are poor and need to migrate for work to sustain their livelihoods, something that can’t be done near home.

“They send their children to me and ask that I help take care of them and I have no choice but to do it because my children are already poor. If I do not help her then it will be even more difficult for my grandchildren, who do not know anything else in life,” Srey said while cooking dinner for her grandkids.

Srey detailed that she has to take care of everything for her grandkids, including their food, education and health care costs, and all of it leaves her little time to rest.

Srey said she has to get up early to do housework, cook for her grandchildren and send them off to school. Now she plans to send her grandchildren back to their parents to live with them next year but whether that will happen or not is uncertain.

She has raised her grandchildren from the age of three up until now. Her eldest grandson is 14 years old and the middle grandson is 10 years old. The youngest grandchild, whom she has been raising since she was just two months old, is now 10 years old.

Her next door neighbour, Im, has been raising her grandchildren for 20 years. After one grandchild grew up and left her care another grandchild immediately arrived to take their place. Im is now 65 years old and her grandchildren have just left to live with their parents, but there’s no guarantee that she won’t have more to care for in time.

“Raising grandchildren is very tiring, but what if the parents have to go out to work for others ... I am not just exhausting myself, raising grandchildren is not easy, sometimes I’m blamed,” she says. “I am illiterate and I do not know how to teach my grandchildren, only how to send them to school ... They go to school and I do not know whether they learn or not.”

According to Prak Kosal, Director of the Department of Early Childhood Education of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, if this practice continues, it will affect the development of young children as this age requires a lot of attention to grow into a full-fledged adult.

Kosal said that children under three years of age need to have their health closely watched, including their hygiene and especially the evolution of their brains.

“Children in the first year, one year, two years or three years is a child with high developmental needs, an age where brain cells are rapidly developing, causing children to move all the time as they are walking, sitting, crawling, clinging and they will change toys often,” said Kosal.

He said that the abilities of the elderly are not appropriately suited to care for children properly and when the child is very active then the grandparent does not have the strength to catch the child, which can lead the child into dangerous situations.

The stage of brain development when children are under three years old is also an important opportunity for their brains to develop further before the children enter kindergarten.

The education ministry is preparing a package to educate parents and guardians on child care and especially to establish a nursery located in Kampong Speu province. The nursery has the support of development partners and will help care for children under the age of three as the province has a large number of people working in factories.

“The role of parents in caring for children is more important than teachers, because children receive parental care before receiving education from teachers,” Kosal emphasised.

He encouraged parents to find some other way of caring for their children rather than just leaving their children with the elderly and to enrol them in kindergarten when they are three years old.

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