24 September 2019

Policy and public financing for children

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. While child poverty threatens individual children, without adequate intervention it is likely to be passed on to future generations, entrenching inequality in society. Cambodia has experienced significant economic progress over the past two decades. By 2016, the country had attained lower-middle-income status and is ranked as the sixth fastest growing economy in the world. Lower-middle-income status suggests less donor dependence and an increase in government investment in crucial areas such as nutrition, health and education. It also suggests establishing a social protection system to reach all citizens, especially the most disadvantaged, with adequate social protection schemes. Yet Cambodia’s gains remain fragile. While the country achieved the goal of halving poverty in 2009, the vast majority of families who escaped poverty were only able to do so by a small margin. Around 4.5 million of Cambodia’s approximately 16 million people remain near poor. This means that they are vulnerable to falling back into poverty if exposed to economic or other external shocks, such as a poor harvest or a sick parent. Cambodia’s recent economic gains have not been distributed equally. Over 79 per cent of poor children in Cambodia live in rural areas, where there are fewer services than in urban areas. Growing up amid inequities can deprive children of a fair chance in life, and in the worst cases, can threaten their very survival. Poverty is not just about measuring income; children from poor households often miss out on basic social services, such as going to school, visiting a doctor or having an adequate diet, all of which impact their long - term survival and development. It is imperative to address multi-dimensional poverty and its multiple deprivations so that every child can have a fair chance to achieve his or her full potential. Children under 5 years in the north-eastern provinces suffer more severely from multi-dimensional deprivations than in the rest of the country, with 74 per cent of children affected. In Cambodia’s urban poor communities, only about 29 per cent of children aged 3 to 5 years are enrolled in any form of schooling. Migrant children often drop out of school; this may be because they do not have their family documentation, or because of the high opportunity cost of going to school. Children with disabilities suffer from a lack of access to appropriate, quality and affordable support services. Social protection promotes access to social services for the most vulnerable families, including poor families, those in remote areas, ethnic minority families, and families affected by disability. Filling poverty gaps means fulfilling key child rights, which is critical for the development of individual citizens, and of a country as a whole.