2011 Cambodia: Evaluation of Adolescent and Youth Participation in UNICEF Cambodia
Author: Henry R. Ruiz
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Cambodia has one of the youngest populations in Southeast Asia, with two out of every three people aged below 25 and 32. This young population brings with it both enormous possibilities and complex development challenges . Despite its huge number, Cambodia’s children and youth remain under-represented in many social undertakings at the national, sub-national, commune and village levels because of a society predominantly characterized by hierarchical and patron-client relationships. The voice of children and youth is rarely heard or taken into consideration in planning, resource allocation, and decision-making processes. At both national and sub-national levels, there are limited institutionalized structures and mechanisms that allow their participation in these processes. Meanwhile, there have not been many initiatives to promote child and youth participation (CYP) in informal sectors such as home, play and work spaces, as well as schools.
UNICEF is committed to building partnerships that promote participation of children and youth in programmes and decision-making processes that affect their lives. One of the key result areas in the UNICEF 2006-2013 Medium-Term Strategic Plan’s is institutionalized participation of children and young people in civic life which has two organisational targets:
• Establishment of national child and youth policies that advance positive and holistic child and adolescent development, and that institutionalise participation of young people in policy development and community life; and
• Improved capacity of children and adolescents to actively participate in decision-making processes that affect them at policy and community levels.
These key result areas (KRA) and targets are parts of the fifth Focus Area of the UNICEF’s Medium-Term Strategic Plan (MTSP) which is Policy Advocacy and Partnerships for Children’s Rights.
In support of the above challenge and in consistency with the MTSP goals, UNICEF Cambodia’s Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP) 2006-2010 included a component on children and youth participation under its Advocacy and Social Mobilization (ASM) Programme. The component is committed to achieve the following expected output with a corresponding indicator:
• Increased opportunities for the participation of children and young people to exercise their right to express their views and be involved in the decisions affecting their lives under all the programmes.
• Percentage of the projects having substantial child and youth participation components/activities.
The evaluation aims to respond to a number of questions related to effectiveness and impact of the programmes against stated objectives and of programming approaches employed. The evaluation also examines the links of these programmes to national and UNICEF strategic priorities related to child and youth participation, as well as, quality of partnership. This exercise specifically seeks to address the following objectives:
1. To review and analyze the accomplishments and level and quality of participation of the four UNICEF-supported adolescent and youth participation projects implemented within UNICEF-Cambodia’s CPAP 2006-2010.
2. To evaluate the above four programmes with focus on:
• Relevance to national and UNICEF priorities
• Effectiveness in achieving stated objectives
• Impact of each of the projects
• Efficiency of approaches (as appropriate)
• Sustainability of the projects
The evaluation of the four projects was also guided by the extent of application of UNICEF’s general standard and principles in working with children and youth, as follows:
• child-friendly environment
3. To identify and highlight the best practices from each of the four projects, if any, and lessons learned for future documentation
4. To generate recommendations for future improvement of the individual project, including recommendations on what and how UNICEF could engage with areas of work addressing issues of adolescents and young people with UN and the government.
The selection of evaluation sites and respondents employed a combination of purposive and stratified sampling methodology to ensure that substantial information were generated from the data collection approaches used. The criteria for the selection of sites and respondents were agreed on with UNICEF and partners. The process had to deal with the fact that these projects ended six months ago so that it was easy to gather the adolescents and youth in one meeting. The level of difficulty in gathering the respondents to a FGD was greater amongst the parents who had to work in the rice fields to take advantage of the rainy season. The other difficulty was tracking down the field workers who may have been employed elsewhere.
Findings and Conclusions:
The evaluation found that the four AYP projects generated adolescent and youth participation in varying degrees of achievement despite cultural, economic, political factors seemingly unfavorable to young Cambodian boys and girls. There were strong elements of participation in some projects not present in others. In general, the strongest participation was in action or accomplishment of their projects and weakest in assessment and analysis and in advocacy and articulation. This may be attributed to the agency’s inadequate understanding of the principles and practice of participation. Lack of relevant guide materials, manuals, or training packages on the principles and standards of participation is another reason. There were evidences showing that the four projects appeared to be adult-led and adult-driven.
The stories of adolescent and youth respondents showed that the impact of participation on them was strongest in the enhancement of their skills related to the project, their expressive ability, fighting off feelings of timidity and shyness leading to self-esteem and self-confidence, their social interaction skills and expansion of friends, better school performance, and better relationship with adults particularly with parents.
The sustainability aspect of the projects is a big issue. Three projects discontinued upon withdrawal of UNICEF assistance. One of them managed to persist because of an external support. All of the projects appeared to be donor-dependent. The projects are limited to participation in media and participation in the communes as opposed to many other types and settings of participation such as school, family, caring institutions, etc.
There was not enough evidence to show that the projects fully addressed equity issues in the project coverage. The four projects tend to focus on older adolescents and youth inadvertently disregarding the participation of younger children under 15 years of age, who have the same right as the older children based on the CRC. There is a strong tendency to create elite groups of articulate and smart young boys and girls in the community because of preference for the best members that could potentially produce the best results. This may have worked to the disadvantage of disadvantaged groups who may have desired to get involved in the projects but did not possess the qualifications. There was no particular gender issue in the four projects.
The projects have no child protection policy. The protection and safety of the adolescents and youth while engaged in project activities did not come out as a key concern among the projects. One of the reasons given was that there has not been any protection issue happening in the past and because of commonly perceived peace and safety in the kingdom.
Measuring the results of the interventions is a challenge because of the absence of baseline data and that the statement of goals and objectives of all the four projects could have been more results-oriented and formulated in “SMART” way.
AYP programming in UNICEF Cambodia
In the previous country programme of UNICEF Cambodia (CPAP 2006-2010), the evaluation found that AYP appeared to be treated as “projects”, such as: youth in the radio, youth on TV, youth in the commune council and youth in the promotion of child rights. AYP was principally considered a responsibility of a specific section, the Advocacy and Social Mobilization Programme. In the CPAP results matrix, AYP was not considered a key result area. The mid-term evaluation of the same CPAP recommended greater attention to capacity development of adolescents and youth groups particularly in taking community action in analyzing their situation, finding local solutions, demanding basic services and monitoring the delivery of quality basic services. The evaluation found that this was barely addressed in the succeeding years.
In the current country programme of UNICEF Cambodia (CPAP 2011-2015), the evaluation found that AYP has now been considered under cross-sector support to facilitate the planning, coordination, monitoring, evaluation and operations of participation across sectors in the entire country programme. However, AYP is still not regarded as a key progress indicator and is still largely considered the responsibility of one section, namely, Policy Advocacy and communication (PAC). A focal point has been designated and sent to training. Currently, there are no discreet AYP projects being supported by the office. Based on the questionnaires submitted by the various sections of the office, AYP has not yet been effectively integrated into the current country programme. As a continuation of previous partnerships in the last Country Programme, AYP is presently focused on collaboration with the UN system and the Youth Section of the MoEYS on the drafting and approval of the National Youth Policy, at the initial stage, and now on the implementation of the Policy.
The evaluation recommends that the four project documents be redesigned to make them more rights-based, vision of adolescent youth and participation clearly articulated and well-defined, goals and objected stated using SMART as standards, outcome indicators consistent with the principles of genuine participation, and choice of strategies empowering. Targeting the project beneficiaries or participants should address the issues of equity, gender, age, educational attainment, and class origin.
They also need to orient the project personnel at all levels on the guidelines, principles, theory and practice of meaningful AYP. They should continue the training of adolescents and youth leaders with more emphasis on assessment and analysis and advocacy and articulation. The projects also need to address the following gaps or inadequacies in: synergy among the four projects, protection measures, sustainability, awareness of adult stakeholders on AYP, and monitoring mechanism for AYP.
UNICEF needs to develop a comprehensive capability building and awareness raising package on the theory and practice of AYP designed for adults. The package must be accompanied with other necessary materials relevant to AYP such as a sample child protection policy in AYP, minimum standards in working and consulting with children; and documentation of good practices on participation in various settings.
Lessons Learned (Optional):
The evaluation learned that despite cultural, economic and political barriers, Cambodian adolescents and youth can have a meaningful participation in the commune council and effectively engage with commune council leaders given enabling environment and appropriate training and exposure. Although not fully successful, CoDeC and CAMP have demonstrated that the commune council could be an excellent platform for youth participation in local governance.
The positive impact of participation on adolescents and youth can serve as a natural advocacy instrument to address cultural bias against the participation of young people in community affairs and in decision making. Meanwhile, their parents, as well as, the commune leaders could be effective advocacy allies if encouraged and trained to speak in support of adolescent and youth participation.
The set of five roles that adolescents and youth could play in a rights-based development programme is a useful evaluation lens but flexibility and creativity are needed to apply them considering historical, political, economic and cultural differences affecting the level of AYP.
Treating AYP initiatives as discrete projects, and not as a general key progress indicator, can get in the way of promoting coordination and synergy among sectors in UNICEF, as well as, with government, non-government partners and the UN family.
Good practices in AYP from the four projects
Each of the four UNICEF-assisted projects, in their own uniqueness, has demonstrated some good practices that could be widely applied in programming for AYP. EA has illustrated that organizing radio listening groups could be a good entry point for the formation of commune youth clubs. CAMP has shown that more spaces for AYP are created when they are organized than when they act individually on their own. CoDeC has proven that forging an agreement with the commune council leaders on the participation of organized youth in the commune council meetings is a good strategy in “penetrating” the commune council. SCY has proven that given opportunity, appropriate training, and communication resources, young people could produce high quality youth-oriented television products on their own with minimal adult guidance.
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