© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
More than 30 years after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime shattered Cambodia, the government is taking meaningful steps toward democratic development in an effort to be more responsive to citizens’ needs, the majority of whom live in rural areas, struggling to satisfy basic needs for their families.
Through an ambitious decentralization and deconcentration reform process, the national government is now placing increased authority and accountability at the provincial, district and commune levels to address challenges at the local level with the recognition that local officials are the best custodians of their communities. As a result, needs for services that most impact children, including education, health and nutrition, child protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene, are now being assessed and prioritized by local government leaders, providing new opportunities for rural communities to play a role in the decisions affecting them.
However, investments in women’s and children’s issues remain a low priority for local governments, which have mostly focused on constructing physical infrastructure rather than the specific development needs of women and children. Yet the chronic challenges women and children confront at the local level stifle overall national progress.
Although public expenditure on social services has been traditionally low, the Government has indicated commitment to improving social sector spending as a percentage of the budget by increasing the number of schools, health centres and health posts in communes and villages, improving the delivery of operating funds at the district level and ensuring quality staff is available to provide services at the local level.
Cambodia has ratified important human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. The challenge now is to make sure these are translated into action and implemented at the local level.
The decentralization and deconcentration reform process provides an opportunity to address and mainstream major issues related to children and women into political and administrative processes. However, more must be done to prioritize human development through local initiatives that improve basic living conditions for women and children in order for national development to gain traction and have real impact.
UNICEF is working with the Government to ensure that the voices of children and women are heard in this process and that the key roles and functions of sub-national authorities in delivery of basic public services are identified and translated into legal instruments that will help to strengthen their capacities to effectively plan, manage and deliver services for children and women.
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