Often belittled as the “crazy” or “stupid,” the mentally disabled in Cambodia face greater and more unique challenges than those with physical disabilities and are thus in need of more focused support, rights workers said yesterday.
Speaking at the opening of a three-day conference about the mentally disabled, Kong Vichetra, executive director of the disability-rights organisation Ko-mar Pikar Foundation, said that those with mental disabilities were “discriminated” and “marginalized”, and not properly supported by most organisations working in the disability arena.
“There aren’t many centres or organizations to help people with mental disabilities, that’s why we want NGOs, the government and relevant institutions to help support them.”
Because of the lack of service in the Kingdom, representatives of organisations from Japan, Thailand and Malaysia attending the conference called for the creation of a national support group to deal specifically with mentally disabled people.
The group would provide services to families of individuals with mental disabilities, raise awareness and lobby for legislation to protect and promote people with disabilities.
Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng stressed the equal importance of education.
“We must educate pregnant women to improve the health of their babies by not drinking alcohol during the pregnancy as it can have serious effects on the babies’ mental health,” he said.
The social affairs minister estimated that roughly two percent of the population had some form of disability. It was difficult to determine the exact breakdown between physical and mental disabilities because the definitions were still unclear, Kong Vichetra added.
Yesterday’s conference comes amid a small flurry of activity surrounding disability rights legislation. In June, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree to create the first disability pension. Under the decree, which lacks an implementation timetable, seriously disabled, elderly disabled and seriously injured people living below the poverty line and without full-time employment would be entitled to 20,000 riel (US$5) per month.