A high proportion of children are being abused and believe their parents have the
right to beat and sell them, new focus group research with adults and children has
The research, Comparing adults and children's perceptions of child abuse in Cambodia,
was conducted throughout 2001 and 2002 by Glenn Miles, the children at risk facilitator
at NGO Tearfund.
Miles said the study was very important "because 50 percent of the population
are children, and of those, it would seem a very high proportion are being abused
in one way or another".
He undertook focus group research with a total of 50 boys, girls, men and women in
groups of five each in a rural area in Kampot, in Phnom Penh and in the provincial
capital of Kampong Cham. He said children were generally fatalistic in their beliefs.
"The most important thing is there is a culture of violence, and both adults
and children feel that violence is a solution to violence," Miles said. "This
needs to be challenged. Adults need to be challenged that they do not have more rights
A key finding was that "most children" felt they should be beaten by a
teacher for making a mistake or being disobedient. Adults likewise believed teachers
were entitled to beat children if rules were broken. Children also said that parents
should beat their children "if they make a mistake", and parents agreed
they had the right to hit their offspring.
More alarmingly, the research also found that both parents and children believed
that parents have the right to sell their children, because they have a reciprocal
obligation to them.
Naly Pilorge, director of the human rights NGO Licadho, said the findings were a
fair reflection of attitudes, stating that people believed in reciprocal obligation
"We know that people's understanding is that a child belongs to someone and
you can do what you want with that child, so children are often subjected to different
degrees of violence," she said.
In regard to sexual abuse of a child at home, parents said it only happened to girls,
and felt that "children need to be more careful," thereby putting the emphasis
on the child rather than the adult.
Pilorge said Licadho's statistics showed high levels of abuse against children.
"This year over 60 percent of cases of child victims investigated were rape,
and 12-15 percent were physical assault," she said. "It is a significant
indicator of a serious problem in society although there needs to be a nationwide
survey done into the extent of the problem."
Miles, who presented the findings at the Royal University of Phnom Penh on November
14, said there was a severe lack of research into children's opinions.
"The research puzzle is bleak, but this research will hopefully put another
piece of the jigsaw in place to help us better understand how, why and in what way
children are abused."
Pilorge agreed that "very few studies are done according to what children say".
Miles said that focus groups were crucial to uncover issues children thought were
important before undertaking quantitative analysis. Tearfund will now carry out research
with 600-1,000 children in the provinces. That will conclude in June, 2003.