In a country where emotional and physical abuse is still prevalent, an organisation is transforming the way in which Cambodia’s most vulnerable young people can access help through free phone counselling, information, referrals and follow-up services.

Every month, Child Helpline Cambodia (CHC) receives between 10,000 and 12,000 calls from more than 3,000 young people who have suffered from various types of abuse, its most recent annual report revealed.

Speaking to The Post on Monday, CHC executive director Sean Sokphay said their system has enabled children and youth up to 25 years old to reach out when they need it in real time.

He added that it allows them to speak directly with professional phone counsellors in a safe and confidential environment.

Sokphay continued that the majority of problems these youths face are related to sexual abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and discrimination.

Up to 300 cases involve domestic violence and over 1,000 relate to mental health problems, he noted.

“The children and youth generally need someone to listen to them without judgment or a guilt-trip. For this reason, the helpline is very helpful for them, because when they speak to their parents, relatives or friends, they might be scolded or judged which makes everything more difficult,” he said.

According to Sokphay, there are 17 specialists ready to provide assistance through the hotline. However, he said budgetary strains currently faced by CHC are hampering their mission.

According to Vichet, one of the councillors in the helpline who gave only his first name, many of Cambodia’s children and youth are too shy to speak out against abuse. He encouraged them to be courageous in telling the truth through the helpline.

“We assure one hundred per cent confidentiality [through the helpline]. And when they share their stories with all their heart, we strive to use the techniques that we received during our training in order to solve their problems.”

‘They were really helpful’

Vichet, however, pointed out that the number of callers outstrips the number of available councillors, contributing to occasional delays in providing assistance to the needy in a timely manner.

Twenty-one-year-old Neath, who faced online threats in 2015, said her problems had been solved and her mental health had recovered after receiving help from CHC.

She hoped more young people would access CHC’s services, saying: “I experienced their services firsthand – I think they were really helpful. I hope more youth will have the courage to speak up about their problems.”

Nhep Sopheap, the secretary-general of the National Cambodian Council for Children – under the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation – said the ministry had always supported the helpline, lauding its “good work in helping Cambodia’s most vulnerable children and youth”.

“Our work is not yet complete, but we are committed to keep providing support to them [CHC].”

Those in need can contact the CHC helpline, both with voice calls and text messages, via the number 1280.