Child Rights

(I) Introduction

The NGO Committee on the Rights of the Child (NGOCRC), is a coalition of national and international non-government organizations (NGOs) working together to advocate for the rights of children and monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Cambodia (CRC). The NGOCRC was established in 1994 and there are currently 34 NGO members. In 2002, there are approximately 200 NGOs in Cambodia working specifically with children.

Children comprise 52.1% percent of the population in Cambodia, and with an estimated 36% of Cambodians living in poverty, the challenge to reduce poverty must include measures specific to the special needs of children. Cambodia’s future and economic growth depends on the survival and development of its children. As Cambodia develops, poor and vulnerable children will be further marginalised without targeted programs, inclusive planning and cooperation. Child Rights is a governance issue, insofar as the realisation of those rights requires leadership, commitment, and resources on the part of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). The key areas needing attention include policy development, human and economic resource development and allocation, and the development, application and enforcement of laws to protect children. Child Rights is a crosscutting issue, and as such, this paper complements several of the other sector papers, in particular, the education and health sectors.

(ii) Progress on Key Issues

1. CRC  Implementation and Monitoring:

The Cambodian National Council for Children (CNCC) has created three sub-committees: The sub-committee for countering trafficking and sexual exploitation of children; the sub-committee on Child Labor and other forms of Exploitation;  and, the sub-committee for legislating child-related laws.

In 2000, the subcommittee for countering trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, with the support of UNICEF and ILO, produced the National Five Year Plan Against Trafficking and Exploitation of Children. This has been followed by a series of seminars to implement the plan for relevant ministries, provincial authorities, NGOs and International Agencies. In addition to organizing seminars, the subcommittee has participated in regional and global conferences on sexual exploitation of children.

The subcommittee on legislation has set up a working group to draft laws. Currently the subcommittee is working on a draft law to have a juvenile court function as part of Cambodian court The RGC has ratified the two Optional Protocols of the CRC demonstrating its commitment to Child Rights.

In 2001, the government organized a seminar on the Recommendations/Concluding Observation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Cambodia State Parties Report. The RGC, with financial support from UNICEF, has fully supported and organized the global movement: “Say Yes Campaign”.

2. Abuses, Exploitation and Trafficking of Children:

The Cambodian government has strengthened its response to dealing with this issue by raising the profile of abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children, and forming stronger networks with organizations working to combat this problem. An extradition and repatriation agreement has been signed between Cambodia and Thailand to repatriate trafficked Cambodian children and about 200 children are returned weekly to Cambodia to be rehabilitated and reintegrated. The number of victims of abuse, exploitation and trafficking appears to have risen over the last 12 months, but this could be due to increased reporting and intervention. There only have been 6-7 offenders convicted for these crimes. This number is very low compared to the reported prevalence of this illegal activity. The Cambodian government is mid-way through the Five Year Plan of Action Against Sexual Exploitation of Children, however the progress of implementation is very slow. In a well-known red light district of Phnom Penh, Svay Pak, there are children as young as 7 years old forced to prostitute themselves.


Children orphaned by AIDS have been put into orphanages 1,2, 3 and 4. There is insufficient care and limited services available for those poor children. The Government has created a National AIDS Authority (NAA) to work closely with NGOs and other agencies to fight discrimination against children infected with HIV. A Five-Year Common Strategy (2001-2005) has been developed and a campaign to raise awareness about the plan has been made.

4. Drugs:

Surveys and research show an increase in drug use among children and youth. The RGC has made some effort in combating the abuses of substances through a creation of National Authority for Combating Drug Abuse, but there remains a lack of prevention services, and lack of alternatives to drug taking, such as recreation facilities, training and employment opportunities. The RGC is now in the process of considering the establishment of treatment and rehabilitation centers for drug victims, and it will be important to be inclusive of children and young people in the service development and planning. The RGC has made efforts to create and strengthen networks at the provincial/municipal level to crack down on the illicit use and transfer of drugs. NGOs, with the recognition of the Government, have established a Drug Abuse Forum for those who need help or information.

5. Adoption:

The adoption of Cambodian children to foreign countries has become known as a burning issue in the last few years. It has developed into a lucrative industry and resulting in criminal and exploitative practices by some involved. LICADHO investigations have revealed clear patterns and networks in the process of trafficking of babies and young children, beginning with local recruiters who pay and coerce poor and vulnerable mother to give up their babies, who end up in orphanages controlled by adoption facilitators with link to foreign adoption agencies. Subsequent attempts by biological parents to recover their children or even visit them are refused. Cases of fraudulent paperwork with false histories of supposed “orphans” have been documented, and the Cambodian Government approval process for adoption is widely believed to be corrupt. The current adoption system does not adequately protect children, birth parents or prospective foreign adopters.

6. Juvenile Justice:

There is no juvenile justice at all in Cambodia, and legislation has little prescribed support for children, Based on our research, children in conflict with law are being detained with adults. There were 239 minors in adult prisons in December 2001; of these 31% were still awaiting trial. The number keeps increasing daily. The Cambodian Justice system does not provide rehabilitation and education support to children while they are in prisons. Subsequently, 6 out of 10 children released from prison are committing more serious crimes and are often subject to beatings when reimprisoned. In some cases juveniles were detained up to 11 months, contrary to the law, which permits only 2 months pre-trial detention. This is an unacceptable situation, which places children in conflict with the law at serious risk the lack of alternatives to imprisonment means that the principle of prison as a last resort can not be applied. The purpose and mandate of the Youth Detention Centre in Phnom Penh is unclear, which may lead to illegal detention.

(iii) Recommendations


  • The RGC should turn its national plans and outcomes of seminars into practical implementation in the field.
  • The RGC should widely inform the public about the availability of its child protection services and encourage people to make use of such services.
  • CRC should be part of National Education Curriculum.


  • The RGC should demonstrate its commitment to protecting children against these types of crimes by sponsoring and supporting a national campaign of awareness about policies and laws against abuse, exploitation and trafficking. This campaign should involve community awareness programs, school programs, media campaigns and training for officials in the relevant ministries.

  • while respecting the independence of the Judiciary, the RGC should increase human and financial resources to detect, investigate and successfully prosecute all perpetrators and people involved in the abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children, regardless of their position or status.

  • The RGC should facilitate improved coordination and cooperation between relevant ministries, both nationally, and with officials from neighboring countries.

  • Donors need to cooperate to ensure that service gaps can be filled and duplication does not occur.

  • A public statement should be made about the progress of implementation of the 5 Year Plan of Action, and follow up should be implemented.


  • Make available and publicize basic services for child victims of HIV/AIDS.

  • Reconsider the awareness campaign against HIV/AIDS, as some messages frighten people, which leads to discrimination and exclusion of victims.

  • Create Community-Based Care Centers for victims of HIV/AIDS, as there are not enough hospitals.


  • Establish and implement a drug abuse prevention strategy.

  • Take tougher action against the use and trafficking of illicit drugs.


  • The Government must sign the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption.

  • Pass new legislation which meets the requirement of the Hague Convention and UN Child Convention.

  • Set up national and international network to combat illegal adoption.

  • Criminalize those involved in exploitative practices in adoption.


  • The RGC needs to endorse and facilitate the establishment of community-based corrections as an alternative to imprisonment, especially for children in conflict with the law. This will require close cooperation with NGOs.

  • The MOI should ensure all institutions provide accommodation separate from adults and education and rehabilitation programs for juvenile detainees.

  • The RGC should draft legislation, complying with the CRC, specific to juveniles in conflict with the law, and establish a Children’s Court.

  • All legislation should be amended in favor of children to protect and supervise children in conflict with law.

  • The mandate and purpose of the Youth Detention Centre in Phnom Penh should be established to avoid illegal detention.


The RGC should make more effort to implement CRC and review laws and legislate to ensure CRC compliance. It should seek to enter child-related international treaties. It should  give more focus to practical implementation, not just planning and workshops.

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