“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle…” Buddha said.
Wat Kamsan, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 2019 – Dressed in the traditional saffron monk robe, Venerable Chheang Choukly, 17 years old, welcomes UNICEF’s team into the Wat Kamsan pagoda, in southern Phnom Penh.
We are here to discuss a painful issue, that of violence against children in pagodas. Unfortunately, violence in pagodas, like in schools, is not uncommon with many children carrying its scars. For many, the perpetrator is a familiar face.
This violence can, and must, be stopped.
In 2018, the Ministry of Cults and Religion (MoCR), launched the Child Protection Pagoda Programme. This holistic intervention aims to make pagodas a safer place for children. Through this programme, Buddhist monks receive training on child protection, studying the Child Safeguarding Policy (Wat Sangkahak Kumar Policy) followed by hands-on work with the community to raise awareness on the issue of violence against children. Pagodas also establish internal reporting mechanisms on this issue.
Holding the policy book in his hands, Venerable Chheang Chouk tells us that he is happy that his pagoda has taken part in this programme; “I really love this policy because I noticed that my master has changed a lot in his practices since he received training on the Policy,” Venerable Choukly said, “He started to teach me and others in non-violent ways,” he further explained.
His master, Venerable Nhem Vuthy, 52-year-old Head Monk of Wat Kamsan, received training on the Safeguarding Policy and became a Core Trainer. Following this, he was appointed as Child Safeguard Focal Point for Wat Kamsan. Since then, Venerable Nhem Vuthy has been a role model and a strong advocate in the community for non-violence against children. Following his lead, many other monks, nuns, novices and community members living around Wat Kamsan have adopted positive discipline, playing an active role in raising awareness with children and their parents in various communities.
“Some used to use violent methods to discipline children, especially verbal violence, but this is not the case anymore”, Venerable Nhem Vuthy said proudly.
Wat Kamsan is one of 27 pagodas (in five provinces) that have implemented the Child Protection Pagoda Programme. Since 2017, with generous support from the Government of Australia and technical support from UNICEF, 2,178 Buddhist monks (including 1,126 child monks) have been trained on the use of the Child Safeguarding Policy. An additional 3,533 people (of whom 3,302 are children) have been reached with child protection messages.
Venerable Choukly has learned from his monk master that everyone can play a role in preventing and stopping violence; “It takes each and single one of us to break the cycle of violence”, he said. Venerable Choukly believes that monks can become role models for those in their communities and spread positive messages on how to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse.
His life is a true testimony of this belief.
When he was in the 4th grade, his parents migrated to work in Thailand and left him and his two sisters with his 74-year-old grandmother. It was a very challenging time in his life; they could barely afford food and were struggling as a family. He dropped out of a primary school as a result.
The young monk has discovered his passion becoming a vocal activist, motivated to end violence against children.
Nowadays, whenever Venerable Choukly goes to deliver his sermons in traditional ceremonies, he makes sure to talk about child protection, informing his peers, friends, family members and community people on this important subject.
“I truly enjoy raising awareness among families and communities and found it significantly important for them to understand the impacts of violence on children,” he says.
A Buddhist expression says: “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle”. Breaking negative cycles within a society starts with individuals. Ending violence against children in Cambodia can be accomplished, through education and understanding, and the actions of well-intentioned and determined figures like the monks that call Wat Kamsan home.