UNICEF in Cambodia Country Programme
With one third of its citizens under 15 years of age, Cambodia has one of the youngest populations in Southeast Asia. This young, dynamic and highly mobile population is poised to enter the work force and has the potential to be a major contributor to sustainable development and economic growth.
Following several decades of strong economic growth, by 2016 Cambodia had attained lower-middle-income status and is ranked the sixth fastest growing economy in the world. Economic growth has reduced the country’s monetary poverty rate significantly, from 53.2 per cent in 2004 to 13.5 per cent in 2014.
Overall, Cambodia has achieved remarkable development in a short period of time. Between 2000 and 2014, the infant and under-five mortality rates both decreased by over 70 per cent, while the maternal mortality rate decreased dramatically from 472 to 170 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Improved antenatal and postnatal care, better immunization coverage and skilled birth attendance are some of the driving factors behind these improvements.
Since 2007, the number of children enrolled in early childhood education has more than doubled, while the number of children enrolled in primary education has also increased, from 82 per cent in 1997 to over 97 per cent in the school year 2017/18. Gender disparities in primary and secondary school enrolment have been largely eliminated.
The number of residential care institutions in Cambodia has declined by 35 per cent, from 406 in 2015 to 265 in 2018. According to 2018 data, there are 7,634 children living in residential care institutions, a reduction of some 54 per cent since 2015. Children are being reintegrated from residential care, institutions are better regulated with digital inspection mechanisms, and no new institution has opened since 2016–a significant achievement in a country where, until a few years ago, the number of residential care institutions was spiralling out of control.
While progress is tangible, it has been uneven, with striking differences between rural and urban areas, between children with and without disabilities, and between wealthier and poorer families. Challenges remain for many children and women in Cambodia and everyday life can be extremely daunting.
While in 2009 Cambodia achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty, today around 4.5 million people remain near poor, with the majority of them living in rural areas and being vulnerable to falling back into poverty when exposed to socio-economic and natural shocks. Poverty is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that affects many areas of life, including health, education and participation. In Cambodia, multi-dimensional poverty has fallen, but much less quickly than economic poverty. Nearly half of Cambodian children remain multi-dimensionally poor.
Despite an overall increase, budget allocation for social services is insufficient, leaving critical programmes underfunded. While still largely rural, Cambodia is witnessing rapid urbanization. Projections suggest that by 2030 over one third of the country’s population will live in urban areas. Failure to expand the urban social service infrastructure to match the increasing urban population will result in new dimensions of poverty.
Migration is prevalent in Cambodia, and there are an estimated 4.2 million predominantly internal migrants, of which 8.3 per cent are adolescents between 10 and 19 years of age. A growing concern is the number of children being left behind in the care of grandparents, who may not be able to care for them adequately.
In Cambodia, one in two girls and boys under the age of 18 has experienced physical violence, one in four has suffered emotional abuse, and many are trafficked, forced to work, separated from their families, and placed in residential care unnecessarily. A 2018 inspection report found that 68 per cent of children in residential care institutions had at least one living parent.