THIS week, ahead of the 69th International Children’s Day, which the world will mark on Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for more action on one of the key issues affecting Cambodians: violence against children.
In his letter, the Prime Minister couldn’t be more right about strengthening local child protection actions and mechanisms to address this grave issue. Children should be able to find the protection from all forms of violence that they are entitled to, as close as possible to where they live, anywhere in Cambodia. Right now this is the responsibility of parents as primary caregivers, teachers and other care-givers in institutions and also of the mandated structures like the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC).
Working with Cambodian communities for over 40 years on child protection, we, at World Vision, have learned the enormous scale of the problem. More than 75 percent of children experience violence (be it physical, emotional or sexual) before the age of 18 years old (Cambodia’s Violence Against Children Survey 2013). Fifty percent of children experience physical violence, 25 percent emotional violence and 5 percent sexual violence. Violence against children is estimated to cost Cambodia up to $161 million per year on health-related consequences (1.01 percent of the country’s GDP). This is a tremendous cost for the country and is hurting the future of our nation.
An analysis from demographic and health survey in 2014 revealed that almost two-thirds of Cambodian people believe that corporal punishments are justified to discipline children. In a forthcoming report from World Vision from 78 primary schools across five provinces, it was found that nearly half of the students surveyed find it acceptable for parents to use verbal and physical violence. This acceptability of violence is in turn internalised by children. They also believe that the stick is an effective way to push students to learn faster and behave better. Implicitly, they also agreed that nearly anything a teacher does to “promote learning” is acceptable and expressed no desire to change this behaviour.
A study on the challenges to functionality of Commune Committee of Women and Children in performing its roles in child protection, conducted by World vision and partners in 2015, found that CCWCs have a complex accountability structure, members lack technical capacities to prevent and respond to child protection issues and lack funding to cover operational cost and provision of social services. To progress in the fight to end violence against children, there is a need for the CCWCs to have clearer roles and responsibilities, to strengthen the capacities of their members and to have their resources increased.
To strengthen action and address these issues, the royal government of Cambodia adopted the Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Children in 2017, a five-year multisectoral and interministerial plan to address violence against children. The government plays a critical role to resource and implement the Action Plan. However, the full realisation of the plan lies not only with the government but also with every citizen who has responsibilities to children.
A huge amount of work is still needed in order to change the attitudes and practices of parents, caregivers, teachers and the general community, so they start using more positive discipline and positive parenting approaches. The prime minister was right in mentioning the need to use both public and private media to educate children and families about violence and its harmful impacts. Other countries have shown that these attitudes can be effectively changed and that it has a tremendous impact on reducing violence against children. And this is not only possible, this is urgent. Close to 30 scientific studies conducted worldwide have proved that children who are regular victims of corporal punishment become more aggressive and are more likely to be depressed or take drugs. Some studies have also shown that corporal punishment delays the cognitive development of children and that schools using corporal punishment have worse performing students.
Cambodians cannot continue to tolerate and accept violence against childrenin any form, and it will take all of us to end violence against children, starting by rethinking the way children are treated with dignity and respect as any human being.
Children are the future and investing in them today is the most cost-effective investment. Nelson Mandela once said, “Safety and security don’t just happen; they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Chea Lyda is senior campaign manager for It Takes a World to End Violence against Children and Mathieu Andre is advocacy technical lead at World Vision International in Cambodia.