[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]
The mass economic migration from rural to urban areas in Cambodia requires urgent action on child protection policies in rural schools. Through their practice and outreach, rural schools can also play a critical role in facilitating broader community-wide efforts to protect children.
A variety of push-and-pull factors continue to catalyze widespread migration from Cambodia’s poorest rural provinces, affecting over one-quarter of the country’s population, or approximately 3.5 million people (Hing, Lun, et al, 2). A large portion of these migrants come from rural Prey Veng province, where MCC supports a number of
education programs. Villagers in one district estimate that 70% of the local workforce has headed to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, or to Thailand for higher-wage, manual labor jobs. Moreover, approximately 20% of these children are being raised by elderly family members (Zimmer and Van Natta, 21). The resulting trend, where migratory parents “leave behind” children under 18, heightens children’s vulnerability, as villages
are stripped of the very adults that hold the community together.
When MCC first began conversations about child protection with twopartner schools in the district, MCC’s assumption was that the policies would govern school activities carried out on school grounds, with the design, input and monitoring performed by school staff. However, when the first facilitation meeting was proposed to school principals, both
suggested inviting anyone interested from the community to the first meeting. The school administration’s assumption was that everyone would have a stake in child protection policies and an interest in children’s welfare—even if the policies would technically only be for the schools.
Approximately 10% of each village was in attendance at the first meetings. School committee members and village chiefs attended, along with students’ aunts, uncles and grandparents, but in line with demographic trends, very few parents were in attendance. Most attendees came with young children—magnifying the point that they are the only adults left to provide supervision. When prompted to discuss child safety concerns, these
guardians expressed a number of anxieties, including transporting children to distant clinics when sick, lack of supervision when commuting to school and difficulty following-up with school lessons and homework.
The dialogue made it clear that a reliable child protection policy, one derived from and carried out by the entirety of the child-supervising stakeholders in the village, would be the only effective means of ensuring that children were adequately protected. But was such a community-wide effort possible? At a basic policy level, MCC is focused on ensuring that its partner schools have child protection policies and procedures in place. Yet, as these community meetings made clear, a child protection strategy limited solely to school grounds falls short of community hopes for ensuring children’s safety. In the wake of these community meetings, MCC is working with these village schools in developing child protection strategies with rules, regulations and preventative measures applicable
to all persons and activities on school premises, while also crafting child welfare reporting procedures that would include a mandate to inform and urge action from community stakeholders.
It will take time to bring this school-based, village-oriented child protection policy into reality, as questions remain about where exactly Cambodian village schools start and end. The fluidity of the schools’ jurisdiction cannot be overstated, and is exacerbated by the presence of snack vendors, villagers’ grazing cows and leased-out rice fields all within
the perimeter of the school grounds.
Child protection efforts in the village are moving forward in order to assist parents who have migrated to find work. By showing up en masse to discuss child protection concerns, extended family networks in the village have made it clear they want support in reducing the risks faced by the villages’ children and youth. The push to develop school-based child protection policies has sparked a broader conversation about how to ensure children’s well-being throughout the community.
Vincent Stange is education program facilitator for MCC in Cambodia.
Hing, Vutha, Lun, Pide and Phann, Dalis. The Impacts of Adult Migration on Children’s
Well-being: The Case of Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), 2014. Available at: http://www.cdri.org.kh/webdata/download/otherpapers/Migration%20and%20child%20well-being_CDRI.pdf
Zimmer, Zachary and Van Natta, Meredith. Migration and Left-Behind Households in
Rural Cambodia: Structure and Socioeconomic Conditions. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: UNFPA and National Institute of Statistics, 2015. Available at: http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/cambodia/drive/rationandLeftBehindHouseholds-Final.pdf
Derks, Annuska. Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.