Policy and public financing for children

For every child, opportunity.

UNICEF Cambodia/2018


The consequences of poverty can last a lifetime. Rarely does a child get a second chance at an education or a healthy start in life. In Cambodia, 40 per cent of the population lives just above the poverty line, while 16 per cent of children live below it and are highly vulnerable. Child poverty does not just threaten individual children–without adequate intervention poverty is likely to be passed on to future generations, entrenching inequality in society.

Cambodia has experienced significant economic progress over the past two decades. In 2016, the country attained lower-middle-income status and is ranked the sixth fastest growing economy in the world.

Yet these gains are fragile. While the country achieved its goal of halving poverty in 2009, the vast majority of families who escaped poverty are now living just above the poverty line. Some 4.5 million of Cambodia’s approximately 16 million people remain near poor, meaning they are vulnerable to falling back into poverty when exposed to economic and other external shocks, like a poor harvest or a sick parent. Additionally, Cambodia’s economic gains in recent years have not been distributed equally; over 79 per cent of poor children live in rural and hard-to-reach areas.

Poverty is not just about measuring income. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that can be measured in many ways, such as poor health, poor education, poor protection and poor participation. Children from poor households often miss out on basic social services because they cannot go to school, visit a doctor or receive proper nutrition, all of which have a huge impact on their survival and development.

Nearly half of Cambodians face multi-dimensional poverty.

UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi

Filling these poverty gaps means fulfilling key child rights. This is critical not only for children but for the whole cycle of human development. Widespread multidimensional poverty threatens the future development of individual citizens, and of a country as a whole.

Children in Cambodia are in urgent need to access basic social services. Like a safety net, these services help to tackle poverty, ensuring that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable have their basic needs met. In other words, social services ensure that children can go to school even if their parents cannot afford it. That a mother can go see a qualified health worker even if her income is too low to pay out of pocket. And that children vulnerable to neglect and violence can be identified and cared for.

Poverty rates are higher among female-headed households, as well as among adolescent girls, compared to their male peers.


UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Antoine Raab

UNICEF supports the government to better understand how and where children are experiencing poverty. We work with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Planning and partners at all levels to reduce multi-dimensional child poverty, focusing on the most disadvantaged children, such as those in urban and rural poor areas, from ethnic minorities and with disabilities. Investing financial resources to help children survive and develop to their full potential is, first and foremost, a moral imperative. But it is also important on a practical level. Investing in children benefits economies and societies, and is increasingly seen as one of the most valuable long-term strategies a country can use to shore up its future.

Our work in social protection touches all our areas of intervention. For this reason, we adopt a multi-faceted approach where social protection activities are integrated with other programmes, such as health and nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and child protection.

Policies can help determine whether people survive, and whether they are healthy and educated.

Build a protective environment

UNICEF focuses on the critical impact that social protection programmes have on children. We support the government to design, implement and monitor adequate social protection programmes to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable people.

Limited social protection is one of the key reasons that families with low incomes cannot access services for their children. To address this gap, in March 2017 the government adopted the new National Social Protection Policy Framework 2016–2025, which identifies social assistance schemes and comes up with a roadmap for their expansion. Examples include cash transfers for pregnant women and young children, scholarships for children in poor households and disability allowances.

We support the government to implement the framework so that children and women in Cambodia receive the right kind of help when they need it.

Invest in social services

Increasing the amount of public budget that is allocated to social services, along with efficient execution of the budget, is a critical part of improving children’s well-being, so we advocate for adequate, equitable investment in social services and social protection programmes. We support the government to formulate, implement and monitor budgets for social protection programmes in a clear and effective manner, by tapping into our expertise in the social sector, and by helping the government identify gaps and coordinate action.

Crucially, we are committed to promoting the participation of youth in planning and budgeting for social programmes at the local level, and we continue to give their voices platforms where they can speak out about the challenges they face. Listening to the voices of children, young people and marginalized communities ensures that interventions actually address needs in a way that is most beneficial to the people who receive them.

Investment in children is central to human development.

Assess action and recalibrate

Monitoring and evaluating any action is vital to achieving progress. UNICEF supports the government to establish mechanisms to monitor and evaluate how interventions in protection, health and other areas bring Cambodia closer to the vision of more children and adolescents living free from poverty.

We share knowledge and transfer skills so that government and non-government institutions at every level can generate and use data to monitor and evaluate programmes. Specifically, we provided technical support to the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Economy and Finance to finalize and implement the National Monitoring & Evaluation Strategy, so that Cambodia’s monitoring and evaluation systems are more solid and reliable.

We also provide technical and financial support the National Institute of Statistics to include relevant questions in national household surveys. This helps to fill data gaps on vulnerable populations, including children with disabilities. With actionable data we can better support the government to ensure that no child is left behind.