‘Children are the most significant human resource for the future of national development,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in an open letter to Cambodians to mark the 69th International Children’s Day on Friday.
“We must protect children for the development of families and the nation,” Hun Sen wrote on Tuesday.
Also to mark International Children Day, Save the Children issued a statement on Thursday expressing concern over the increase in teenage motherhood, which puts the health of the youngest of Cambodia’s children at risk.
“More than 30 percent of children in Cambodia [suffer stunted growth], one in five [are] out of school and nearly 20 percent are engaged in child labour,” the organisation said.
In a global report, End of Childhood: The Many Faces of Exclusion, Cambodia fell two places to 119th out of the 175 countries analysed, while neighbouring Thailand was ranked at 85, Vietnam 96, the Philippines 104 and Indonesia 105. China improved one spot to 40.
“We know there is much to celebrate in Cambodia as the situation for some children improves, but significant indicators – such as the rise in teenage pregnancy – mean that the overall trend is not progressing as fast as desired.
“In just four years, Cambodia experienced a 50 percent increase in the number of teenage pregnancies being reported, increasing from eight percent to 12,” said Save the Children’s country director in Cambodia, Elizabeth Pearce.
The report highlighted strong links between a lack of education and teenage pregnancy, stating that 37 percent of Cambodian girls aged 15-19 with no education are already mothers or pregnant with their first child, compared to eight percent of those with a secondary education or higher.
“Most teenage mothers in Cambodia live in disadvantaged communities in rural provinces, where they have missed out on the progress that has lifted up many of their peers.
“By virtue of being ill-prepared for parenthood, that disadvantage is passed onto their newborns,” Pearce said.
She appealed to the Cambodian government to invest in nurturing care from conception through to the early years for all children and caregivers, even those living in the most remote, rural and difficult to reach areas.
Such efforts, she said, would reduce the number of girls becoming mothers too early, and provide the necessary nurturing environment for all children to thrive.
In his letter, Hun Sen also said: “Children from poor families, children from ethnic communities, and disabled children are being given due attention without discrimination, having the chance to receive an education and the same basic services.”
The prime minister’s letter also said child protection is a task that requires all stakeholders to contribute.
It is a responsibility based on the improvement of education and skills training, enhanced social welfare for children and the protection of children from violence and danger, he said.