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A Cambodian Christmas Story

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Cambodian school children in Santa Claus outfits play at their school in Phnom Penh. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/afp

A Cambodian Christmas Story

Ayear ago, on the 11th of December 2017, just one day after the celebration of Human Rights Day, Christmas came early for the advocates of child rights when the Cambodian government launched the Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Children 2017-21.

After months of consultation and work with all partners, a critical step toward more coordination, more resources and, ultimately, more progress toward ending violence against children in Cambodia was made. One year on, are these promises being fulfilled? Can Cambodia build on this and write a success story on child protection?

The study on violence against children in Cambodia in 2013, the first of its kind in the region, had provided a clear picture of the scale of the problem in the country. While not unexpected, the findings were chilling: violence was impacting three-quarters of children in Cambodia before they turned 18.

The following years would see a good response from the government with some new laws and policies adopted. The adoption of the Action Plan also reflected the progress of a global movement to end violence against children and Cambodia was at the forefront in the Mekong region.

So, a year after the launch, it is time to ask ourselves – did the Cambodian government, development partners and even us, leading independent child-focused NGOs in Cambodia, deliver on the promises of the Action Plan?

From our point of view, the response is a cautious but clear yes. Over the past 12 months, the Cambodian government, civil society and development partners have undeniably progressed on the implementation of important actions.

These include the adoption of the policy on child protection in schools and its action plan, training on positive discipline and effective classroom management for teachers, development of the PROTECT Partnership to change attitudes and behaviours on violence against children and unnecessary family separation, and work on social workforce and the local child protection systems through the strengthening of the Commune/Sangkat Committees for Women and Children.

The list continues. And more is coming with progress registered on the development of a national policy on child protection, the creation of the interministerial steering committee for the Action Plan and the possibility that Cambodia will officially soon become a Pathfinding Country as part of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.

For us, it is important to recognise the progress made so far and praise the Cambodian government for its leadership. Violence against children is often an area that attracts little interest from decision makers.

Cambodia has proven, for the best, to be an exception. But ending violence against children is a long term objective and even after years of progress, there is still a lot more to do. And so, our next question should be – with four years to go for the implementation of the action plan, how to prioritise our efforts and where are the challenges likely to be?

First, with the creation of the interministerial steering committee, the Cambodian government may be about to address one of the biggest of these challenges – coordination for a multisectorial response.

Addressing violence against children requires action at so many levels in different sectors from income generation to the review of laws and policies. This requires the participation of many ministries, civil society organisations and children and youth led organizations.

Without a strong platform to coordinate their efforts, progress would be difficult. The inter-ministerial committee will play a critical role but it will need a clear mandate and, more importantly, adequate resources. But in order to be successful, this increased commitment and coordination needs to be matched with an increased allocation of resources for the implementation of the Action Plan and several other promising instruments.

At the local level, social services and child protection actors need resources to strengthen their capacities. At the national level, many important actions listed in the Action Plan are going to require more investment. And many promising pilot initiatives will need additional funding to be scaled up and sustained.

Joining the pathfinding country process should provide the Cambodian government with some additional funding opportunities. Beyond this, development partners should see that the Cambodian government is committed to progress on violence against children and that investing in this area offers a huge return on investment.

But in the end, long-term sustainable solutions will only come as the Cambodian government is able to integrate the Action Plan into the budgets of the relevant ministries. Only through this integration will we bring the fight to end violence against children in Cambodia to the next level.

Several years of good progress have shown that there is a strong commitment to reduce violence against children in Cambodia, from the government, donors and civil society organisations. With a bit more coordination and a more sustainable investment, Cambodia could write one of the most impressive success stories on violence against children in Asia.

The kind of Christmas stories children of Cambodia need more than any other.

This op-ed is collectively signed by Prashant Verma, country director of ChildFund Cambodia; Jan Jaap Kleinrensink, country director of Plan International Cambodia; Elizabeth Pearce, country director of Save the Children International Cambodia; Chea Phon, national director of SoS Children’s Village; Chan Krisna Sawada, project coordinator at Terre des Hommes Netherlands; and Christabel Kalaiselvi, national director of World Vision International Cambodia

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