Daycare has been neglected in Cambodia since the 1990s, although it was a priority during the socialist regime in 1980s. According to a report prepared by Eng Netra and Sin Sovann in 2007, there were about 102 public-funded childcare centres during the 1980s, but they were closed down in the early 1990s. Public and enterprise-based daycare have been ignored in any government’s programme or plan since then. I argue that it is time for the state and civil society organisations to prioritise daycare in Cambodia.
The primary reason lies in the Constitutional and legal provisions on childcare in Cambodia. Article 73 of the Constitution states that “The state cares for children and mothers. The state organises nurseries and attends to women without support who have many children under their care”.
The spirit of article 73 in the Constitution was later translated into article 16 in the 2007 Education Law. Although the Constitution and the Education Law recognise the state’s role in childcare provision, it fails to do so in practice. Instead, the state transfers this provisional childcare role to enterprises operating under the Labour Law.
The 1997 Labour Law regulates any enterprise and agricultural one employing at least 100 workers to provide daycare services to their employees. For instance, article 186 requires enterprises employing a minimum of 100 hundred women or girls to “set up, within their establishments or nearby, a nursing room and a nursery”. If the enterprise is not able to set up this nursery, the employer shall pay for daycare fees charged by other daycare service providers to which their employees send their children.
According to a report prepared by International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) in 2018, the garment and footwear enterprises make up 72 percent of Cambodia’s total merchandise exports in 2017. The same report indicates that the number of textile factories was 661 in 2017 with approximately 641,461 workers in 2017 and the vast majority (88 percent) are women .
Nevertheless, none of my 52 community respondents interviewed in early 2018 was aware of any daycare centre within their garment factories. Currently, there are only about 2 to 3 standardised daycare centres within garment factories in Cambodia, according to my interviews with various institutions in early 2018 as part of my PhD research.
This figure suggests that the vast majority of female factory workers do not have access to daycare entitlements for their small children. The common practice is that employers provide monthly milk allowances to female workers with 5-7 dollars per child for a period of time. This amount is very minimal which is not sufficient for daycare fees in Cambodia.
The second reason for the prioritisation of daycare is to respond to the Global Development Agenda in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. The SDGs compose 17 goals and 169 targets with a 15-year timeframe ending in 2030. The SDGs include childcare provisions in two primary targets of under Early Childhood Care and Education (SDG 4), and Gender Equality and Women’s Rights (SDG 5).
As a UN member, Cambodia is supposed to translate the global SDGs into practice in the Cambodian context.
In Cambodia, key policy frameworks relevant to childcare provisions in the global SDGs are the National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development (NP-ECCD) in 2010, the Action Plan of NP-ECCD, goals 4 and 5 embedded in the Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals (CSDGs) Framework, and the Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goal 4-Education 2030 Roadmap in 2019. All these policies, except goal 5 in the CSDGs framework, tend to prioritise one-year preschool education and relinquish the state’s role in care for children under five years old by assigning the family with this childcare.
Therefore, their primary limitations lie in their negligence of public-funded daycare and legal enforcement on enterprise-based daycare, which are essential for low-income families, especially poor women-headed families. This problem is compounded by the fact that daycare issues have not been the core agenda for advocacy of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Cambodia, except for the agenda of International Women’s Day in 2019.
The target 5.4 as part of the Goal 5 in the CSDGs framework emphasises “legal measures and policies that address and recognise work-life balance (housework and unpaid care) and promote more access to decent work for women” as its indicator. This indicator is a bit vague but has the potential to address the ignored public and enterprise-based daycare issues in Cambodia if it is considered in conjunction with the Constitutional and legal provisions on childcare. Otherwise, this indicator will be just policy rhetoric.
Therefore, I urge the state to come up with a concrete action plan and sufficient budgets to provide public daycare and enforce childcare provisions in the labour law. At the same time, CSOs need to prioritise childcare as their core advocacy agenda. Making this advocacy more effective requires a coalition among advocacy CSOs, worker’s unions, and CSOs working on early childhood education.
Sambath My is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. He can be contacted at [email protected]