UNICEF in Cambodia
UNICEF is an agency of the United Nations which works in Cambodia to promote and protect the rights of children in partnership with the Government, civil society, NGOs and development partners, and the communities themselves.
UNICEF began its work in Cambodia in 1952 and opened its first country office in 1973 at the height of the country’s civil war. At the time, the organization’s key mandate was to provide humanitarian relief to children affected by conflict. UNICEF was one of the many international organizations expelled from the country in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized power.
After the fall of the regime in 1979, UNICEF was among the first organizations to return to Cambodia to provide emergency aid. Upon return, UNICEF worked to address critical health, sanitation, and aid distribution related challenges, such as the provision of safe drinking water and the distribution of essential school supplies for children to return to school.
Greater political stability in Cambodia came with the first democratic elections in 1993 which enabled UNICEF to strengthen its partnership with the Government to improve the lives of women and children in the country.
UNICEF is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. With close to 70 years of experience, UNICEF is the only organization specifically named in this Convention as a source of expert assistance and advice. Also known as the CRC, this global agreement identifies what children need to survive, grow, and live up to their fullest potential in the world. It is the most complete statement of children’s rights ever produced and the most widely-ratified international human rights treaty in history.
The CRC has radically changed the way children are viewed – from passive objects of care and charity to right holders. Cambodia’s official commitment to creating better opportunities and safer, healthier living conditions for children was embodied by its incorporation into the country’s Constitution in 1993.
Today, the UNICEF Cambodia office in Phnom Penh is backed by three zone offices in Phnom Penh, Kratie and Siem Reap. While operating nationwide, UNICEF focuses on provinces with the highest disparities and worst child development indicators to ensure an equitable approach towards improving the lives of women and children.
UNICEF is supported by voluntary contributions from government donors, individuals, private sector and UNICEF National Committees.
History of UNICEF in Cambodia
UNICEF first began working in Cambodia in 1952 and opened its first country office in 1973 at the height of the country’s civil war. At the time, UNICEF's key mandate was providing humanitarian relief to children fleeing the country's civil war. The organization was one of many international agencies expelled from the country in 1975, when Cambodia came under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the period that followed, between 1975 and 1979, when war and genocide gripped the nation. UNICEF was among the first organizations to return at the end of the war to provide emergency aid.
During the Khmer Rouge period, widespread famine left a majority of the population starved and extremist policies resulted in the complete destruction of schools and pagodas. Hospitals and health centres were damaged and left inoperable after years of neglect. UNICEF prioritized upgrading health facilities with a focus on access to clean water, providing immunizations and distributing school supplies so children could return to school.
In the mid-1980s, UNICEF evolved into a development organization, shifting its focus from emergency to nation-building. The organization launched a rural water supply project and expanded its immunization programme, especially to remote areas.
As Cambodia transitioned out of conflict toward stability with the first democratic elections held in 1993, UNICEF continued to build on its strong cooperation with the Government to improve the lives of women and children.