What it will take to end violence against children

Op-ed by Mathieu Andre, Technical Lead for Advocacy and Lyda Chea, Campaign Manager for ‘It Takes a World’ at World Vision

This week, ahead of the 69th International Children’s Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen calls for more action on one of the key issues affecting Cambodians: violence against children.

In his letter, the Prime Minister couldn’t be more right about strengthening local child protection actions and mechanisms to address this grave issue. Children should be able to find the protection they are entitled to, as close as possible to where they live, anywhere in Cambodia. Right now this 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, have learned the enormous scale of the problem. More than 75% of children experiencing violence (be it physical, emotional or sexual) before the age of 18 years old (Cambodia’s Violence Against Children Survey 2013). 50% of children experience physical violence, 25% emotional violence and 5% sexual violence. Violence against children is estimated to cost Cambodia up to US$161 million per year on health related consequences (1.01% of the country’s GDP). This is a tremendous cost for the country and is hurting the future of our nation.

According to a national survey in 2014, almost two thirds of Cambodian people believe that corporal punishments are justified to discipline children. This acceptability of violence is in turn internalized by children. In a forthcoming report of World Vision from 78 primary schools across 5 provinces, it was found that nearly half of the students surveyed find it acceptable for parents to use verbal and physical violence. They also believe that 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.

A study on the challenges of CCWC in performing its roles in child protection, conducted by World vision and partners in 2015, found that CCWCs have a complex accountability structure, members lack technical capacities to prevent and respond to child protection issues and lack funding to cover operational cost and provision of 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.

To strengthen action and address these issues, the Royal Government of Cambodia adopted the Action Plan to Prevent and Respond to Violence Against Children in 2017, a 5-year multi-sectoral and inter-ministerial plan to address violence against children. The Government plays a critical role to resource and implement the Action Plan. However, the full realization of the plan lies not only with Government but also with every citizen who has responsibilities to 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 they start using more positive discipline approaches. The Prime Minister was right in mentioning the need to use both public and private media to educate children and families about violence and its harmful impact. 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, this is 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 it will take all of us to end violence against children, starting by rethinking the way children are treated with dignity and respect as any human being. 

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 collective consensus and public investment.  We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." 

In November 2017 World Vision launched a global campaign ‘It Takes a World’ to end violence against children. More information on the campaign is available here: wvi.org/ittakesaworld  

 Note to Editors

With a presence in close to 100 countries and 50,000 employees and volunteers worldwide, World Vision is a global nongovernmental organization focusing on the wellbeing of children through development and humanitarian programmes. In Cambodia, World Vision is working in 36 districts across 9 provinces​ and Phnom Penh implementing health and nutrition, education and life skills, child protection and youth projects reaching 2.7 million children every year.

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Sengkong Bun, Public Relations Officer, World Vision

Tel: +855 98 777 430 or Email: sengkong_bun@wvi.org