Too often, children in Cambodia are the victims of physical and emotional violence.
Many children end up being separated from their families and living in institutions or other types of care. Violence against children exists in every country in the world, cutting across culture, class, education, income and ethnic origin. Sadly, Cambodia is no exception. The Cambodia Violence against Children Survey (CVACS) conducted in 2013, showed that more than half of Cambodian children reported having experienced at least one form of violence before the age of 18. These forms of violence included being slapped or pushed, punched, kicked, whipped, or beaten with an object. Perpetrators used or threatened to use a weapon, and abuse ranged from physical and sexual to emotional.
Childhood violence impacts a child’s development and growth. It can have negative impacts that last well into adulthood, affecting a person’s whole life. Adults who were victims of violence as children, and those who witnessed violence, are known to suffer from physical and mental health conditions later in life. They are likely to have lower levels of education and limited employment prospects, and many adults repeat the pattern–displaying violent and harmful behaviours.
Violence against children also has significant economic consequences. ‘The Economic Burden of the Health Consequences of Violence Against Children In Cambodia’ estimated that violence against children cost the country US$ 168 million in 2013, accounting for 1.1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Since the release of the 2013 CVACS, the Cambodian Government and NGOs have increased initiatives to better protect children. The Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence against Children (2017–2021) is one such initiative. The CVACS provided evidence on the prevalence and magnitude of physical, emotional and sexual violence experienced by children in Cambodia, and the Action Plan sets out activities to be carried out by government and non-government agencies in response. It covers key areas for interventions across health, social welfare, education and justice at every level of society.
The Cambodia PROTECT strategy works to educate the whole of society about the dangers of using violence against children, and to teach people how to prevent and respond to violence if they see it or suspect it. It also raises people’s awareness of unnecessary family separation and advises them on how to prevent it or respond to it.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines violence against children as: “All forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.”
The impacts of childhood violence and abuse can last a lifetime. Children who have been severely abused or neglected often suffer from impaired development, have learning difficulties, and perform poorly at school. They may have low self-esteem and suffer from depression, which can lead to risky behaviour and self-harm. Witnessing violence can cause similar distress. Children who grow up in a violent household or community often repeat the pattern of violence and abuse against their own spouses and children. Beyond the human cost, violence against children carries serious economic and social costs in both lost potential and reduced productivity.
Half of Cambodian children surveyed have experienced at least one form of violence before the age of 18.
The first experience of sexual intercourse was unwanted in every 11 males (8.9 per cent) among those whose first sexual intercourse was prior to age 18.
One quarter of Cambodian children were emotionally abused by a parent, caregiver or other adult relative.
More than three quarters of Cambodian children reported more than one incident of physical violence, emotional violence or sexual abuse prior to age 18 .