As Cambodia ages, its already strained support networks for the elderly will face added pressure, officials and experts say.
ARECENT report from the US Census Bureau concluded that, in fewer than 10 years, seniors will outnumber children worldwide for the first time, creating burdens for families, communities and health and social service providers.
Though Cambodians are relatively young, the Kingdom's elderly population will also rise sharply, taxing an already strained support network of pagodas and commune councils, NGO and government officials said Wednesday.
Pay Sambo, deputy director of retirement and pensions at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said the population of people aged 60 and over was 3.4 percent in 2007.
By contrast, 17.8 percent of Western Europe and 6.8 percent of Asia are 65 or over, according to the US Census Bureau report.
Pay Sambo said he expects 6 percent of Cambodians to be 60 or over by 2050, a statistic that underscores an ageing trend that could in coming years put tens of thousands of seniors at risk.
Pay Sambo said a lack of funding had hindered his department's goals to prepare the country for the future.
"We haven't done research on old people in recent years because we don't have the money," he said.
A 2004 University of Michigan survey of the elderly in Cambodia concluded that Cambodia's seniors are the least healthy in Southeast Asia, and that endemic poverty has left more than half without a toilet.
Guy Clarke, the Cambodia country manager for HelpAge International, said elderly Cambodians were often called on to provide - rather than receive - support from their families.
"In times of food insecurity, the middle generation often leaves the villages," he said, adding that this means the elderly are often left to look after their grandchildren.
He added that pagodas and commune councils, which have traditionally been sources of support for the elderly, are already under some strain.
Keo Chanta, director of the Cambodian Elder Support Organisation (CESO), said the government had failed to support its elderly population.
"For the elderly who do not have families, they will face difficult lives," he said. "I used to talk with government officials about helping old people, and they said they don't have money. They want the NGOs to help, but how can we do it all if the government does not help?"