Cambodia stands at the threshold of transformation into a new stage of social protection. The National Social Protection Policy Framework – Vision 2030 aims at a goal where all Cambodians will enjoy comprehensive protection and support across all stages of life, moving towards a social protection floor for all.

The family package, launched in December 2023, embraces the integrated innovative approach of this new policy framework.

From the moment of pregnancies and births, mothers will receive baby bonuses alongside access to pre- and post-natal care and basic immunisations as well as nutrition support for children within their first 1,000 days of life, ensuring a healthy start for both mothers and children.

The social protection system could also provide childcare facilities to support parents in balancing caregiving and work responsibilities, fostering an environment where working mothers should not compromise their economic participation.

For all children between 2 and 5 years of age, access to food security, nutrition, positive nurturing care environment, and early childhood education should be ensured, laying the foundational stones for lifelong learning and health. As children grow, families could be supported to ensure educational attainment, with scholarships or financial incentives facilitating access to schooling for all.

The transition from education to employment can be supported by initiatives, such as Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes and skills development opportunities, also supporting vulnerable young adults with cash allowances. These could be designed to secure that youths, including young adults with disabilities, step safely into the formal workforce. Alongside, initiatives designed for working-age individuals in vulnerable communities could also include transfer of cash, assets, and skills aiming at promoting the economic empowerment and human development of all Cambodians.

Within this life stage, the social protection system could aim at covering the entirety of the workforce and their dependents, through healthcare, occupational risks, pension schemes and unemployment, to ensure stability in the face of personal contingencies, societal and climate-related challenges or national emergencies.

Whether with disability or during retirement years, lives could be characterised by dignity and security, with healthcare and pension schemes, coupled with old age allowances to guarantee a stable income for the elderly.

This vision acknowledges the elders’ contribution to society and ensures they continue to live with respect and financial independence.

Building on the vision for a comprehensive lifecycle approach to social protection in Cambodia, it is essential to harmonise this strategy with the principles of universalism and the establishment of a social protection floor to ensure and assure all Cambodians are guaranteed a minimum standard of living. This alignment recognises social protection as a fundamental right, ensuring that every citizen has access to adequate benefits and services necessary for a life of dignity and full societal participation.

 In a rights-based approach, defining benefits with reference to evidence-based approaches, for example minimum food baskets, responds to the beneficiaries’ right to an adequate standard of living.

To improve the limitations of the current mechanisms such as the IDPoor system, Cambodia’s social protection vision could embrace a more inclusive and universally accessible framework.

For example, by integrating contributory schemes with non-contributory elements, the system can encourage wider coverage while accommodating the variegated nature of employment and economic activities across the country.

To further realise this vision, it will be necessary to foster stronger governance and increase the efficiency of various social protection interventions. The current efforts towards establishing a joint digital delivery management information system for the upcoming Family Package, and the existing work on disability identification, for example, are instrumental in this sense.

As the digital transformation of social protection matures, digitalisation will progress to more pillars such as payment mechanisms, beneficiary management and feedback mechanisms.

At the foundation of this vision, the role of the state and government in Cambodia could be strengthened as the primary duty bearer of social protection. Financing social protection through the principle of solidarity ensures that resources are pooled for the welfare of society, contributions could reflect the individuals’ capacity to pay, and benefits be based on needs.

A diversity of financing methods, combining general taxation and social insurance contributions, could allow for a flexible and resilient funding structure. Transparency and accountability are also central to maintaining public trust and ensuring that funds are allocated efficiently and effectively.

Lastly, the principle of sustainability requires that the social protection system should be viable in the long term in the face of future economic and demographic changes.

In conclusion, a lifecycle approach based on the principles of universalism, adequacy, solidarity in financing, and sustainability can form the architecture of a social protection floor system that is both robust and responsive to the needs of all Cambodians.

Through the 2021-2024 “Advancing Social Protection” project – funded by the EU – the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF have supported the transformative improvement of the Cambodian social protection system.

Our activities have supported the formulation of new programmes and the improvement of delivery, coordination, modernisation and readiness of social protection operators. The extension of health insurance to the self-employed and contributors’ family members, and the development and implementation of the family package and the disability identification mechanism, are examples of how social protection can be developed based on the rights-based approach.

As Cambodia strides towards the universal social protection, it is crucial for all stakeholders – government bodies, international partners, civil society and the private sector – to unite in this endeavour.

The call to action is clear: collaborate to refine and implement a Social Protection Vision 2030 that is inclusive, adequate and responsive to the needs of all Cambodians.

Finn Koh is programme manager for social protection at the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) country office for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
Lisa-Marie Ouedraogo-Wasi is chief of social policy at UNICEF in Cambodia.

The views expressed are those of the authors.