The need to survive results in child abuse in Cambodia


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A neighbour alerted Cambodian police about a 4-year-old girl kept chained in a wooden shack for 8 hours every day. The girl’s mother borrowed money from a woman who demanded the girl be sent to her as a security against the loan. The girl then spent two years in the lender’s house.

The lender stated she only kept the girl chained to a pole so that she does not hurt herself. The mother meanwhile says she cannot take her daughter back, as she does not have means to support her. Both women work hard just to survive.

The neighbour who reported the matter to the police said it was not right to chain children like dogs, children should be cared for. It is impossible to argue with this statement. So why did this child have to suffer?

Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest countries. The reign of terror by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979, followed by further war and internal strife, destroyed infrastructure and left the economy in ruins. Two thirds of Cambodia’s farmers and members of fishing communities experience seasonal food shortages each year.

The dire economic situation has a negative effect on the children of Cambodia. Traditional communities disintegrate as people flee floods and droughts or move to less populated areas and to towns and cities. Adults and older children migrate abroad to earn a living.

All of this contributes to the destruction of support networks that children can depend upon in traditional societies. Mothers, aunties, and neighbours are forced to work away from the house. They cannot stay with the children at home and care for them.

In the horrific story of the 4-year old being perceived as a loan guarantee and treated as livestock, it is difficult to point fingers. The mother cannot afford to keep the child, and the lender/perpetrator of child abuse cannot afford to look after the child. The only way she knows how to keep the child from more harm is inflicting the harm of restricting her movements and neglecting her for the hours the woman has to work in the fields.

This state of affairs means that child poverty, malnutrition, health problems, and exploitation rates in Cambodia are among the highest in the world. Save The Children report that in Cambodia one in 23 children die under the age of five. Children from rural areas are at much greater risk of dying than those from urban parts of the country.

In addition, Child Wise warn of high levels of child exploitation in Cambodia, including sexual exploitation and trafficking. Despite common stereotypes that it is rich Western people who abuse children in poor countries such as Cambodia, in fact it is almost always family members, neighbours, and friends who commit acts of sexual and other abuse.

Child Wise suggest that although domestic and international laws are important to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing, groundwork is even more important than that. Community attitudes should be returned to traditional family values, and support networks should be re-established.

Sadly, these aims are difficult to achieve under rampant globalisation. Multinational corporations are striving for more open borders and free markets, which leaves local communities under constant threat. Local economies cannot compete and people in poor countries are powerless to defend their traditional communities and values. The result is cases like this one in Cambodia.


Article prepared by Mike Burd

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