A senior education official called for the elimination of all violence in schools and communities in order to ensure that all children are protected from harm while attending both public and private schools and able to study in safe learning environments.
Put Samith, head of the General Department of Education under the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the call at the June 28 official launch of Operational Manual on Child Protection in Schools (OMCPS) held in Phnom Penh.
Samith said education officials and teachers must work towards the elimination of all forms of discrimination including those based on social status, race, religion, language, gender, physical fitness and any other aspect of a child’s appearance.
He further noted that the provision of equal, professional, conscientious, accountable and quality education services was the basis for building a society with citizens who have the knowledge and skills necessary to develop the nation.
As part of its vision for Cambodia’s school curriculum, the education ministry wants to increase the Kingdom’s pool of human resources and help the children it educates become capable citizens through moral and civic education.
Samith added that the ministry wanted children and youth to become non-violent and dignified persons who follow their consciences and are dedicated to building a better future.
“We want a society in which people live in harmony, which is by definition a society free of violence where people can live in dignity,” he said.
Bianca Collier, acting country director of Save the Children Cambodia, said OMCPS was established as part of the Ending Violence Against Children in and around schools in Cambodia (END VAC) – a project led by the education ministry in collaboration with her organisation, Plan International Cambodia, World Vision International and other partner organisations.
The project formed the basis for implementation nationwide next year after it was trialled over 21 months from October 1, 2020 through June 30, 2022, including an extra six months in Siem Reap and Preah Vihear provinces.
“The development and the launch of the OMCPS is a main step towards END VAC,” she said.
Chum Channra, an education specialist at UNICEF Cambodia, said Cambodia was stepping up its efforts at eliminating violence against children.
“The participation of teachers, communities and parents will also be helpful in preventing violence in terms of their knowledge and support,” he added.
He noted that some teachers and parents have never realised that what they were doing when punishing children for misbehaviour actually amounted to violence against them. They were just repeating the same behaviours that were handed down from generation to generation, believing that if they did not use violence to punish children, they would not listen or obey.
“Forcing teachers and parents to cease all use of corporal punishment isn’t enough. We have to get them to choose not to do it anymore consciously. If we simply forbid them from beating their children, they will just resent the authorities for interfering with their classrooms or households. We have to convince them that it’s wrong and harmful and unnecessary because there are better methods,” Channra said.
Sao Lay, Grade 5 teacher at Thmea Primary School in Preah Vihear province’s Chey Sen district, said that before the project was carried out, the teachers at his school regularly used violence against some students in order to discipline them and maintain order in the classroom, rationalising it by saying it was for the child’s benefit, but now attitudes have changed there.
“They advised us not to use five forms of violence – physical, mental, sexual, indifference or exploitation. They introduced a system of reporting in the schools where now when children have a problem, they report it to the teacher who alerts the school administration, which now provides counselling to them,” he said.
Nhav Srey Nich, a 6th grade student at Banteay Srei Primary School in Siem Reap province, said that after the END VAC project was carried out at her school, she learned a lot about how to protect herself from abuse and whom to report it to when it happens.
“The project let me know that children have rights and it told us about different forms of violence other than just beatings. Now we know that there are rules against it that can protect us if we go and report that it’s happening,” she said.