The government unveiled a long-awaited national plan to combat violence against children yesterday, four years after a countrywide survey revealed that more than half of children in Cambodia are physically abused.
Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, during a speech at the launch event at the Sofitel Hotel, called the five-year action plan “specific and realistic”. However, officials acknowledged the plan was still unfunded, and observers yesterday noted that there would be challenges with implementation.
“Despite the remarkable implementation of national policies . . . there are still challenges that our children face,” Sam An said. “The political will and participation of relevant parties at all levels are needed to address violence against children.”
The plan – developed by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Ministry of Social Affairs with support from Unicef – calls for a raft of new programs for parents, teachers and law enforcement.
Among other things, the plan calls for the criminalisation of corporal punishment in schools and at home, training for teachers and law enforcement on reporting violence against children, the creation of a juvenile justice court, increased recruitment of female law enforcement officers and outreach to ethnic minority communities and drop-outs.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi said the surprising results of the 2013 survey spurred development of the plan. “The findings showed that the prevalence of violence against children is very high,” Kantha Phavi said. “It’s not only physical, but it’s mental and sexual.”
Nhean Sochetra, general director of social development at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said the ministry’s “next step” is to secure a budget for the plan.
Unicef Cambodia spokeswoman Iman Morooka said preliminary estimates put the cost at $1 million per year for five years.
Ros Sopheap, head of Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), questioned whether that would be enough to roll it out in the country’s more than 1,600 communes. A previous national action plan on violence against women, scheduled to end next year, garnered support when it was launched but lost momentum due to insufficient funding, she said.
Sopheap added that monitoring and evaluation of the success of the program should be overseen by independent observers. “It doesn’t mean that we are blaming or criticising, but we are just raising our voices about these concerns,” Sopheap said. “We hear a lot of news reports [about violence against women], but if you ask me how much better or worse it is after the plan, I could not say.”
Eric van der Lee, head of the Asia division of children’s rights group Terre Des Hommes, said he was encouraged to see that 11 ministries had signed onto the plan. “The challenge now is whether or not the resources will be available and whether they will be available for years to come,” van der Lee said.
The launch event was also attended by UN Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais, Unicef Cambodia representative Debora Comini and Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara