A concerted effort must be taken to end violence against children and we must start rethinking the way children are treated, to give them the dignity and respect they deserve, write Chea Lyda and Mathieu Andre.
Today is Children’s Day celebrated all over the world. Ahead of the 69th International Children’s Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen, this week, called for more action to prevent violence against children.
In his letter, the prime minister couldn’t be more right about strengthening local child protection action and the much-needed mechanisms to address this grave issue. Children should be able to find protection, which they are entitled to, from all forms of violence. This protection should be as close as possible to where they live, anywhere in Cambodia. Right now this protection from violence is the responsibility of parents as primary caregivers, teachers and other caregivers in institutions and also of the mandated structures like the Commune Sangkat Committee for Women and Children (CCWC).
Working with Cambodian communities for over 40 years on child protection, we, at World Vision, are aware of the enormous scale of the problem. More than 75 percent of children experience violence (be it physical, emotional or sexual) before the age of 18 (Cambodia’s Violence Against Children Survey 2013). Around 50 percent of children experience physical violence, 25 percent emotional violence and 5 percent sexual violence.
Violence against children is estimated to cost Cambodia up to $161 million per year on health related consequences. This is roughly 1.01 percent of the country’s GDP and is a tremendous cost for Cambodia, hurting the future of the nation.
An analysis from the demographic and health survey in 2014 revealed that almost two thirds of Cambodian people believe that corporal punishment is justified to discipline children. A forthcoming report of World Vision from 78 primary schools across 5 provinces reveals that nearly half of the students surveyed found it acceptable for parents to use verbal and physical violence.
This acceptability of violence is in turn internalised by children. They also believe that using the stick is an effective way to push students to learn faster and behave better. Implicitly, they also agreed that nearly anything a teacher does to “promote learning” is acceptable and expressed no desire to change this behaviour.
Another study on challenges to the functionality of Commune Committee of Women and Children in performing its roles in child protection, conducted by World vision and its partners in 2015, found that CCWCs have a complex accountability structure. The study also found that members lack the technical capacity to prevent violence and respond to child protection issues. Moreover, they have inadequate funds to cover operational costs and provide social services.
To progress in the fight to end violence against children, there is a need for the CCWCs to have clearer roles and responsibilities, to strengthen the capacities of their members and to have their resources increased.
In a bid to address the issue of violence against children, the Cambodian government in 2017 adopted the Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Children. This is a five-year multi-sectoral and inter-ministerial plan. Without doubt, the government plays a critical role to provide resources and implement the action plan. However, its full realisation lies not only with the government but also with every citizen who has a responsibility for the well-being of children.
A huge amount of work is still needed in order to change the attitudes and practices of parents, caregivers, teachers and the general community, so that they start using more positive discipline and positive parenting approaches. Prime Minister Hun Sen was right in mentioning the need to use both public and private media to educate children and families about violence and its harmful impacts. Other countries have shown that these attitudes can be effectively changed and that it has a tremendous impact on reducing violence against children. And this is not only possible but also urgent.
Close to 30 scientific studies conducted worldwide have proved that children who are regular victims of corporal punishment become more aggressive and are more likely to be depressed or take drugs. Some studies have also shown that corporal punishment delays the cognitive development of children and that schools using corporal punishment have worse performing students.
Cambodians cannot continue to tolerate and accept violence against children in any form and a concerted effort must be taken by all of us to end it. We must start rethinking the way children are treated, and in turn give them the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Children are the future and investing in them today is the most cost-effective investment. Nelson Mandela once said, “Safety and security don’t just happen; they are the result of a collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Chea Lyda is senior campaign manager for It Takes a World Campaign to End Violence against Children and Mathieu Andre is advocacy technical lead, World Vision International in Cambodia.