“I am afraid of thieves, child rape and drug users,” said 12-year-old Panchma, a Cambodian girl in a survey of more than 6,000 children in 47 countries conducted by international child development coalition ChildFund Alliance.
The survey of the hopes and fears of children aged 10 through to 12 shows that Cambodian children are significantly more concerned by violent crime than most of their peers around the world, but have particularly high aspirations for education in their country.
The study’s findings place Cambodia alongside Liberia and Afghanistan as the countries where the highest proportion of children emphasised fear of violence and crime.
In response to the question, “What are you most afraid of?” just under one third of Cambodian children surveyed answered violence and crime – more than any other named fear.
This was a significantly high percentage compared to other countries where an average of only 10 per cent of children surveyed named violence and crime as their top fears, with most children responding their top dreads were scary animals and insects.
The next most common fear among Cambodian children, identified by 22 per cent of respondents, was “unfulﬁlled aspirations, such as not being able to complete school or ﬁnd employment”.
The importance that Cambodian children in the survey attached to education was echoed in their responses about hopes and aspirations.
Nearly three-quarters of kids said that if they were the leader of Cambodia, their main way to better children’s lives would be to “improve education/provide enrichment opportunities” – a response given by only 39 per cent of children surveyed overall and 52 per cent of children in developing Asian nations.
Education also inspired a particularly large response among Cambodian children to the question: “If you could grow up to be anything you wanted, what would you be?”
Thirty-seven per cent of Cambodian children said they would be a “teacher/academic.”
“With a large number of young people entering the work force in Cambodia each year, it is important that our consultations involve children and youth with communities and the Royal Government of Cambodia,” said Carol Mortensen, country director for ChildFund Cambodia.
“Children’s fears will often reflect their personal experiences. It is a concern that so many children in Cambodia named violence and crime,” she added.
Denise Shepherd-Johnson, chief of communications for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said via email that the responses from the survey could help inform UNICEF’s work.
“The fact that this report says Cambodian children worry most about violence and crime is especially noteworthy,” Shepherd-Johnson said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Justine Drennan at [email protected]