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Violence against children – Let’s face the facts to build a safer Cambodia

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Young boys play in a Phnom Penh slum. Alastair mccready

Violence against children – Let’s face the facts to build a safer Cambodia

A recent series of brutal crimes against children has shocked the country, leaving us heartbroken for the affected families and seriously concerned for the safety of Cambodian children.

Thanks to the quick action from the authorities, the suspects in these cases have been apprehended.

We are now hoping that the investigations and trials will bring justice and closure for these children and their families.

As we try to grasp these horrible crimes and what they meant for our country and communities, it will be tempting to surrender to our anger and fear and look for easy solutions.

However, building a better and safer Cambodia for our children requires more.

It requires us to start facing some very sad but crucial facts.

First, these recent cases of sexual and physical violence against children are just the tip of the iceberg.

Many studies have shown that in Cambodia, like in any other country in the world, for each story of violence against children in the news, hundreds of others are not reported or investigated.

According to Cambodia’s Violence Against Children Survey from 2013, one in six children is the victim of sexual violence before the age of 18, and one in two experiences physical violence.

These statistics remind us that the issue is serious and prevalent.

Secondly, studies often point out that perpetrators of violence against children are often known to the children they abuse – they are their relatives, neighbours or friends.

While we are concerned about strangers, we need to remember that children are more often abused by the ones who are close to them and, in many cases, continue to live side by side with them.

The third fact we face is that while solutions to ending violence against children do exist, there is no quick and easy answer.

It would be comforting to think that a simple fix can be found, but working on child protection for almost 50 years in Cambodia and in almost 100 countries around the world has taught World Vision that when it comes to supporting the development of safe communities for children, time, local ownership and commitment along with evidence-based interventions are the only way forward.

Over recent years, the Cambodian government has worked with many organisations like World Vision to improve the prevention of and response to violence against children.

Many solutions have been piloted and we now have evidence of what is working.

Children need effective local child protection systems to protect them where they live.

They need social workers in their communes and villages.

They need strong Commune Committees for Women and Children (CCWCs) with additional resources and capacities to take action.

They need parents and teachers who understand what violence against children is and looks like, and know how to use positive discipline.

And children themselves need to be taught how to protect themselves and others through life skills training at schools and in communities.

The Cambodian government and its partners know this and are working to make it happen – and there is no doubt these approaches will continue to bear fruit.

The last fact we need to accept is that we can all play a role in speeding up progress.

More and more partners are supporting the Cambodian government.

Cambodia becoming a Pathfinding Country in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children later this year will be an opportunity to renew all stakeholders’ commitments to speed up progress.

Many organisations like World Vision have already prioritised action on violence against children and will continue to work with the Cambodian government.

At the local level, the Cambodian government announced in February that commune development budgets would double in 2020 and more than triple in 2023.

Part of these resources can be used to strengthen CCWCs so they can better prevent and respond to violence against children.

It could also be used to recruit social workers to support CCWCs.

In schools, the implementation of the Child Protection in School Policy could be sped up, using a mix of resources from the Cambodian government, development partners and communes.

Many other opportunities exist to strengthen the local child protection system.

It will take time, effort and resources.

It may not be the easy or quick solution we would like to be able to implement – however, evidence is showing us that this is the right way to work for a safer Cambodia.

Lyda Chea is the Senior Manager for World Vision’s Kumrou Ahoengsa/It Takes a World to End Violence Against Children campaign.

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