The social welfare system
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
Cambodia’s swift economic rise and fall in recent years has placed new pressure on families, with children among the most acutely impacted. More children are migrating to urban areas in search of work and an escape from poverty, yet they frequently encounter new burdens in the city. Although an economic boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s created more jobs for young people, the recent global financial crisis has seen many jobs vanish, increasing insecurity for children.
Children are most severely affected by social and economic shifts, where a collision of social problems including unemployment, family break-ups, and an erosion of traditional values has left more children vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.
Children are being abused and exploited for labour and sex both in Cambodia and neighbouring countries, putting them also at risk of HIV infection. Each year more than 500 cases of sexual exploitation, rape and trafficking are reported to police. Closer to home, children are equally vulnerable to psychological and physical abuse, including corporal punishment in the home and in schools, and sexual abuse. Rape is the most commonly reported offence committed against women and children.
Meanwhile, as families grapple with poverty, many are abandoning traditional values that prioritize family and community-based care and leaving their children instead to grow up in residential care facilities – a trend that has contributed to a rapidly increasing and largely unregulated residential care industry in Cambodia.
While more than 11,900 children are living in residential care, an estimated 72 per cent have at least one living parent. These children are unnecessarily separated from their parents – the most protective safeguard in the life of a child.
The absence of strong and effective social protection and justice systems deepens negative impacts on children. Due to shame, stigma and trauma, children who are rescued from abusive and exploitative situations often face tremendous difficulties reintegrating into their families and communities. Yet services to prevent violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, as well as rehabilitate vulnerable and victimized children are fragmented, inadequate, under-funded and under-staffed. Cambodia has only one district social worker per 25,000 people, and most lack resources and skills to prevent, assist and refer cases of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, significantly compromising quality of case management and support. NGOs fill some gaps but coverage is often limited and heavily concentrated in and around the largest urban areas.
UNICEF strengthens the protective environment for children by advocating and supporting the government to develop a social welfare system that is child and gender sensitive and deliver accessible quality services to vulnerable children and their families.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
What we do
- Support the government to strengthen social welfare policies, plans of action and regulations to address disparities, and implement them effectively, particularly the alternative care policy, reintegration of victims of violence, exploitation and abuse, and the national action plan to eliminate the worse forms
of child labour.
- Strengthen national and local capacities to oversee, regulate, and deliver child protection and social welfare services to promote and support family preservation and respond to violations of child protection rights.
- Support the government to develop a monitoring and evaluation system that covers key child protection issues and provides accurate data on vulnerable children.
- Advocate for the government to increase budgets allocated to social welfare and child protection.
- Support the government and other partners to strengthen systems to monitor and report violations of child protection rights and to develop independent complaints mechanisms.
- Strengthen child protection coordination efforts at the regional, national and subnational levels.
- Support the government and NGOs to develop new models of alternative care, family support and other protection and social welfare services for vulnerable children and their families.
- Increase the number of professional social workers providing support to children in need.
- Build on our experience with social service mapping at the local level to ensure that vulnerable children, youth, and families are identified and referred
to appropriate services.
- Carry out advocacy and research, and provide technical support to partners to integrate HIV prevention among most at risk adolescents into child protection system building efforts.
- Promote participation of vulnerable children and young people in national policy and strategy dialogues.
Accurate data on vulnerable children and child protection issues in Cambodia are increasingly available to policy makers, helping to ensure that real issues are addressed through national child protection laws, guidelines and strategies. Cambodian children are prevented from ‘falling through the cracks’ through closer collaboration between government, providers of health and welfare services, academic institutions, NGOs, community-based organizations, faith based initiatives and other civil society partners, as well as UNICEF and other UN agencies. Children and families at risk and victims of violence and exploitation have increasing access to appropriate care, HIV prevention and protection services.