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NGOs call for gov’t support on child rights post-pandemic

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Prime Minister Hun Sen holds two girls on the 73rd anniversary of International Children’s Day on June 1. SPM

NGOs call for gov’t support on child rights post-pandemic

A group of six independent NGOs has called on the government to commit to supporting child rights after the coronavirus pandemic, after their survey found out that nearly 80 per cent of children and youth respondents said their parents experience financial stress.

In a statement released on International Children’s Day on June 1, the Joining Forces Alliance said that even though children have “gone back to a normal life” as Covid-19 cases taper off, nearly 80 per cent of children and youth surveyed nonetheless reported feeling stressed and worried about the future.

The Alliance consists of the Child Fund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages, Terre des Hommes Netherlands and World Vision.

The survey’s answers were collected through focus group discussions with young people regarding such topics as economic hardship within families, educational challenges and increased exposure to emotional violence and gender discrimination.

“In the interviews, children mentioned three main causes of these feelings: stress due to economic difficulties in their families, facing challenges of catching up with studies after two erratic years, and an increase in exposure to emotional violence and gender-based discrimination,” the Alliance said.

The survey also noted that about 80 per cent of respondents mentioned that their parents experienced economic stress, are in debt, or struggling to pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and school fees.

Around 45 per cent of respondents said they have been able to catch up on their studies since the reopening of schools, as the quality of the education they received online was lower than that of in-person learning.

But alarmingly, 67 per cent of respondents reported experiencing some form of emotional violence, such as being mocked, bullied, or yelled at either at home or in school, while another 15 per cent reported experiencing physical violence.

A survey respondent was quoted as saying that: “children need more support from parents, local authorities, teachers and other adults to express their feelings and be able to effectively manage their stress.”

Another respondent said that most children have been trying to deal with these experiences on their own.

“I would rather support myself as it is not my wish to pass on the stress or concern to another person”, the respondent said, adding that she uses social media as a “means of motivation, especially through [viewing content produced by] social influencers.”

Member NGOs of the Joining Forces Alliance said they have committed to collaborating with the government and other civil society organisations to provide financial assistance to vulnerable children and families in need to prevent them from having to drop out of school.

They also pledged to respond to “any” incident of violence against children in schools, promote the safe use of the Internet and to disseminate information on child rights within communities.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced recently that the government has set out and is promoting the National Social Protection Policy to improve social welfare and unity. The policy also hopes to reduce poverty through social protection systems including the social assistance system, which provides protection to people living below and near the poverty line, and the social security system, which provides pension protection on healthcare, occupational risk and disability.

He said the government has been implementing cash support programs for pregnant women and children under the age of two in poor families to help reduce the financial burden of childrearing and improve the nutrition of women and children.

Chhour Sopanha, director of the social welfare department under the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said the study by the group of NGOs was conducted “unilaterally and without government input”, and that he had not evaluated the report yet.

But he said that the government has “paid close attention” to the issue of child rights and “had responded in a timely manner” to uphold them, as well as ensure child welfare, through its cash support program fir poor families and that of those who died from Covid-19.

“The findings are that of the NGOs’ alone, but I want to emphasise that the government has been implementing a successful cash transfer program and has spent more than $600 million on it,” he said.

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