PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Over half of all Cambodians have suffered violence as children, often inflicted by a close relative or community member, according to a new study.
The study indicated that children suffer from three types of abuse: physical, emotional and sexual. Teachers and parents were identified as the adults most often responsible for abusing children.
“The report highlights particular vulnerabilities of boys and girls to sexual violence and the negative health consequences of these experiences on their childhood and beyond,” Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs, said during the report’s launch on Wednesday.
Cambodia made history as the first nation in East Asia to conduct a survey on Violence Against Children across the country. The year-long study surveyed 2,376 youth between the ages of 13 and 24.
The survey, conducted by the Women’s Affairs Ministry, Unicef and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), revealed that Cambodia is no exception to the violence that exists against children around the world.
“Exposure to violence severely limits young children from reaching their full potential, resulting in huge losses to society,” said Marta Santos Pais, special representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children. “The elimination of all forms of violence against children must be a core indicator of national social improvement.”
“In this comprehensive national survey, Cambodia has broken new ground and provides a model, in Asia and across regions.” Ms. Pais added, speaking at the unveiling of the report.
Cambodia has one of the world’s youngest populations – about 5.5 million children under 18 years, or 41 percent of the country’s population.
While the number of victims of child abuse is alarming, an added concern is the financial cost incurred due to health and psychological consequences associated with violence.
According to the report, the estimated economic loss for Cambodia in 2013 was, at a minimum, $161 million, equivalent to 1.06 percent of the country’s GDP.
“The economic burden of health consequences of violence against children in Cambodia is substantial, indicating the importance of investing in prevention,” the report stated.
“Child welfare and development are important to a country’s development, including Asean member countries,” Vong Sauth, Minister of Social Affairs and Youth Rehabilitation, said at the press conference.
A range of health consequences can flow from exposure to violence at a young age: mental distress, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicides, and even transmission of sexual diseases.
“Violence has a long term affect across all the various sectors of health,” said Howard Kress, lead behavioural scientist at the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention.
“I want you to imagine what it would take to begin to reduce that violence,” said Mr. Kress. “Violence is not just common in countries in Asia or developing countries. Violence is common world-wide.”
Keys to preventing violence against children centers around increasing safe, stable and nurturing relations, said the CDC.
“Youth need to take responsibility for their actions and stop repeating actions,” said Choeuy Bona, a 17-year-old student attending the survey launch. “We must enforce positive behavior.”
“Cambodian youth need to change their attitudes,” added 17-year-old Vat Sreyroth. “We need to promote awareness of violence in schools.”