Child rights groups banded together on International Children’s Day yesterday to call on the government to fund stronger committees to combat violence against children at the commune level, saying structural failures put children at risk of abuse.
Citing a study compiled in March this year, World Vision, Save the Children and the Cambodian Children’s Fund lobbied the government to improve Commune Committees for Women and Children (CCWCs), which were established in 2007 to connect people in need to health, school and social services.
One major problem, said World Vision Cambodia advocacy manager Steve Cooke, was that too often these committees were compelled to go beyond their capacity and step into the shoes of social workers, when they lacked the skills and government support to do so.
“Social workers are a limited resource in Cambodia, and violence against children is extremely prevalent. Put those things together and the demand for the service is higher than the supply,” he said.
“The CCWCs are stuck in the middle. They feel pressure to respond to those issues in the community.”
Other failings the study unearthed was a misunderstanding about the various forms of sexual abuse a child might suffer – not just rape – and an over-reliance on putting children who had suffered abuse into residential care.
The report also found a tendency of commune committees to facilitate reconciliation of domestic disputes rather than pursuing prosecution, which the NGOs said failed to act as a deterrent for perpetrators and placed victims at risk of future violence.
Cooke added that the commune committees did help children – to varying degrees depending on the commune – but said a review of policy, strengthening their accountability structures and better training to identify at-risk children to prevent abuse were keys to improvement.
Sak Setha, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, acknowledged the committees were underfunded but said the Kingdom had made great strides in improving the lives of children over the past 10 years.
“Because the financial support is limited, the communes have very limited resources . . . that is not good enough,” Setha said. “The challenge of this committee is to have more capacity; the second thing is that we need to provide more resources to them.”
He said national ministries would meet with sub-national groups to discuss the issues.
Cooke also highlighted the need for better dialogue between children and adult decision-makers.
“The best people to tell us about what these issues [that affect children] are and ideas to address them are the children themselves,” he said.