Having worked extensively within the community and closely with families living in extreme poverty in Cambodia, we have personally witnessed the difference that can be made through education, hygiene and housing. Below are some of the reasons that, we at Heartprint, devote our time to doing what we can to improve the lives of the people of Cambodia...
Cambodia has made considerable progress from the dark days of the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970’s. Nevertheless, as is common with many developing countries, the benefits from this progress are not evenly spread. It is still one of the world’s poorest nations and poverty is a fact of life for many people.
Though education is officially free in Cambodia and available to all, there are many costs, (both official and unofficial), that prevent children from attending. Children attend school for half day classes; either morning or afternoon, and an impressive 80%+ of children enrol for primary school. Costs of school uniforms, books and other materials, the need to travel greater distances, and unofficial fees, mean that only 26% start lower secondary school and just 9% start upper secondary school. These averages apply for both sexes and the situation fares far worse in rural areas. Teacher’s, whose salaries are only $30 to $50 per month, struggle to survive on this wage and are forced to charge unofficial attendance fees, or fees for extra tuition, or for examination results etc. Such fees are beyond the means of the poorest families, and as children get older they are required to work at home, resulting in them leaving school.
Completion of the secondary school certificate and the ability to speak, read, and write English, are important prerequisites for getting a decent job. Without basic literacy and numeracy skills, it is difficult to get any job. A lack of education locks many people into a perpetual poverty cycle: no education means no job; no job means no money; no money means no education.
Modern day slavery
Human trafficking, including child sex abuse, is inextricably linked to poverty. Human trafficking refers to the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation; simply put it is 21st century slavery. It’s the fastest growing criminal industry in the world; second only to the drug-trade and equal in size to the illegal arms industry. At any one time, there are some 2.5 million trafficked human beings being forced through violence and threats as they work for someone else’s financial gain.
Cambodia continues to recover from the Khmer Rouge era and years of civil war. Extreme poverty and a still-weakened infrastructure create an ideal environment for the abuse of human rights. Trafficking victims are largely from the world’s poorest countries; with little education and no other prospects, they often believe the trafficker’s promises of a job that will provide a better quality of life. Many people are acquainted with the person who recruits them on behalf of the trafficker: often an uncle, family friend or even the friendly woman who buys fruit every week from their parents’ market stall.
People are trafficked into child labour, prostitution, or to work in industries such as bars, restaurants or domestic services. Here, their freedoms are restricted through having their passports confiscated, being incarcerated, or being told that they owe money for transportation, food, clothing or accommodation, which they can never repay. People are often moved illegally across borders and believe, rightly or wrongly, that they would face problems if they went to the authorities.
One of the most distressing and extreme results of poverty is when desperate parents are forced to sell their children; the unthinkable often happens when parents are unable to work through illness or disability and, with no supporting community, starvation appears likely. Although small in percentage terms, it is surprisingly common. Families will sell their own daughters for a sum that will see them through the year, often believing that the girls are going to get a job or an education. Virgins command a higher price as many men believe that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. To ensure a girl’s virginity, girls as young as 5 or 6 years old are bought and then raped.
Girls who attempt to escape and are recaptured by their owners receive punishments that will almost certainly stop them considering leaving again. To make matters even worse, once a girl has worked as a prostitute, even if she was forced into it against her wishes, the family and village often reject her for bringing shame on the community. She may well be at risk of being sold again should she ever escape and try to return home. Many are unable to ever go back to their families.
Cambodia's sanitation crisis
Cambodia has the lowest rate of toilet coverage in Southeast Asia leading to disease, environmental problems and hindering economic development. Tackling its sanitation problems is one the country's biggest challenges.
Disease and preventable illness resulting from open defecation is very common; 80 percent of people living in rural villages do not have toilets. Most people in the countryside simply defecate in fields or nearby forests contaminating the soil, air and water leading to serious illness and diarrhea. One in eight children will die before their fifth birthday due to infectious disease, much of which is easily preventable.
Diarrhea is a silent killer. Diarrheal disease kills more children under five years of age worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. This is the result of poor sanitation that can be so easily prevented by installing toilets and teaching better hygiene practices. Recently, research has shown that poor sanitation leads to stunting and poor growth in children.
Besides these serious implications for health, poor sanitation also affects families’ ability to earn money. According to a recent World Bank study, a rural Cambodian family loses almost $70 a year due to illnesses caused by poor sanitation and hygiene, more than most make in one month. In urban areas the average wage is around $40 a month.