The two highest-placing ASEAN countries in the Human Development Index were Singapore (23) and Brunei Darussalam (30). They were the only countries to receive the “very high human development” designation, which went to 38 countries.
CAMBODIA slipped six places to 137 out of 182 countries on the UN Development Programme’s most recent quality-of-life index, landing just behind Congo Brazzaville and just ahead of Myanmar.
The Human Development Index, released Monday, draws on 2007 data to assess quality of life in three areas: life expectancy, education and living standards. The last index, which relied on data from 2005, placed Cambodia at 131 out of 177 countries.
Though the UNDP cautions that year-to-year ranking changes sometimes reflect data revisions rather than actual quality-of-life gains or losses, the index does allow for meaningful cross-country comparisons. From a regional standpoint, Cambodia placed below every other ASEAN country except Myanmar and East Timor.
In areas such as adult literacy, Cambodia fared better than its overall score, but when it came to GDP per capita and education enrolment, among others, Cambodia placed even lower.
Migration is the chief focus of this year’s report, which finds that Cambodia takes in $353 million from its citizens working abroad.
The report argues that migration can make substantial contributions to development despite the fact that it is often portrayed negatively in the press – in accounts of vulnerable foreigners being exploited and of workers “stealing” desirable jobs in developed countries.
Remittances, for instance, are among migration’s “most direct benefits”. Cambodia came in at 91st with respect to total remittance inflows, with an average per capita contribution of $24.
More than half of the $370 billion remitted in 2007 went to mid-ranked HDI countries such as Cambodia.
Funding the family farm
Neang Reth, 37, said he was glad that his 22-year-old daughter, Neang Kimching, was among the 2.3 percent of Cambodians working abroad. She left to work as a domestic worker in Malaysia two years ago.
“It is better than having her stay here because we wouldn’t have the income because she wouldn’t have any work to do,” said the Kampot province native. He said his daughter typically earned US$150 per month and was able to send only sporadic remittance payments. Over the past two years, he said, his daughter had been able to send payments of about $300 to help support the family farm.
He noted, though, that there were some drawbacks to the arrangement.
“It is common that I miss my daughter,” he said, noting that she was due back in about three months. “If she gets a job in our country, I will not let her go abroad.”
Whereas Neang Reth described his daughter’s experience as largely positive, Hem Bunny, director of the employment and manpower department at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, noted that there was always the chance workers could be exploited.
“To work abroad is like the lottery,” he said. “Sometimes, workers find good bosses, and bosses are actually looking for good workers. They need each other because good workers are hard to find, and good bosses are also hard to find.”
John McGeoghan, project coordinator at the Phnom Penh office of the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), said the 2.3 percent figure was “probably about right”.
He added that international demand for Cambodian labour would likely persist: “We’re probably going to be exporting labour for a very long time.”
With that in mind, IOM project technical assistant Yi Soksan called on the government to hold recruiters accountable for the experiences of their clients who travel abroad.
He also said the government should provide more information on the potential drawbacks of working abroad so that potential migrants could make informed choices.
“We hear only the good news from the government and recruiting agencies, but we don’t know about the bad situations some workers get themselves into,” he said, referring to broken contracts and missing payments. “We want to hear both.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ROBBIE COREY-BOULET