Thursday, August 30, 2012

Partnership programme strengthens child protection systems in Cambodia

Makara (name changed) helps herself to fruit in the M’Lop Tapang’s canteen.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
M’Lop Tapang, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), joined forces with UNICEF and Friends International (FI), as a key partner in the Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children, also known as 3PC. The partnership programme with contributions from the German Committee for UNICEF, the Netherlands Committee for UNICEF and USAID, aims to help strengthen the country’s efforts to prevent and respond to child protection concerns. In support of government strategies, the partnership programme operates in five provinces and involves eight other NGOs across Cambodia.

M’Lop Tapang currently works with over 3500 children and 1200 families at nine specialised centres in Sihanoukville, providing shelter, medical care, sports, arts, education and training, counselling, family support and protection from all types of abuse. M’Lop Tapang has been operating in Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s second largest city, since 2003.  Sihanoukville has a population nearing 200,000 residents and is located approximately 230km from the country’s capital Phnom Penh.

Makara*, a 17 year-old girl, is one such young person to benefit from M’Lop Tapang’s increased support services since the establishment of the partnership programme. Makara, who was born in Sihanoukville, used to live with her alcohol dependent mother in Mettaphap district.

“I was so unhappy because I couldn’t go to school’, recalls Makara. “We were very poor, and my mother used to beg for money from the neighbours to buy alcohol and food.”

Never knowing her father who died when she was two-years-old, Makara would remain at the dilapidated home cooking what little food the family had, and on occasions suffering from domestic violence, after her mother had drunk too much rice wine.

Although Makara has an older brother, she couldn’t take refuge at his home, because he too was alcohol dependant, would sometimes beat her and also had a family of his own. Relief for Makara came in the form of the Provincial Governor who had witnessed her plight, and informed an outreach team at M’Lop Tapang who visited the family to assess their situation.

“They told me M’Lop Tapang was a safe place for me to stay and study and they discussed the matter with my mother”, explained Makara. “But at the time my mother disagreed.”
Sandan Restaurant, where Makara will soon start vocational training.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Reid
New opportunities

On a regular basis, M’Lop Tapang child protection social workers, communicated with Makara’s mother about the organisations services and benefits, and after a year, her mother changed her mind and agreed to allow her to join M’Lop Tapang. Since then, Makara has been assigned a M’Lop Tapang social worker, benefits from regular counselling sessions, and resides at one of M’Lop Tapang’s night shelters. Soon after her arrival at M’Lop Tapang, she began attending the local school and has since studied up to grade five. M’Lop Tapang also supported her to take additional English classes at a local private school. Makara is not the only one to benefit from M’Lop Tapang’s services. Her mother also receives support from a M’Lop Tapang social worker, who keeps Makara’s mother updated on her daughter’s progress and accompanies Makara to visit her twice a year. Using family based approaches is an important principle M’Lop Tapang and other NGOs in the 3PC programme use to prevent and respond to child maltreatment.

Recently, Makara re-discovered her love of cooking and started a vocational course, with plans to join the newly opened Sandan restaurant. The restaurant is operated by M’Lop Tapang as a training restaurant for disadvantaged youth to provide them the opportunity to learn new skills in the hospitality industry. Friends International worked in close partnership with M’Lop Tapang to establish the restaurant and assist with the training of staff.

“I’m enjoying the course,” said Makara enthusiastically. “I want to find a job in a restaurant after I finish, so I can earn money and support my mother.”

There are approximately 10,000 children living in extreme poverty in Sihanoukville’s streets and slums. The predominant factors pushing children to live, work, beg on the streets include poverty, domestic violence and family breakdown. These children and youth are vulnerable to psychological, physical and sexual abuse, HIV infection, are discriminated against and are denied access to basic services such as healthcare, education and protection.

Partnership benefits

“We have already spent many years building good relationships with local authorities, but the UNICEF and FI partnership programme helps us build an even stronger partnership,” states M’Lop Tapang Coordinator, Maggie Eno.

“The partnership programme helps us share more cases directly with the government and other NGOs. We are able to work more closely with victims of all types of abuse and children in conflict with the law, so together we are able to work out what is best for our clients.

With the partnership programme, we conduct more ongoing training with local authorities and families on child protection issues, direct support to families of victims and organise reintegration trips.  We are also able to take trips to assess victims of trafficking inside and outside of the province with the police in attendance,” she adds.

Learning and new developments

M’Lop Tapang is now planning to set up a foster care programme after visiting and learning from partners in the 3PC programme who have existing foster care programmes, notably, the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and the NGOs Mith Samlanh and Komar Reagrey.
The partnership programme also promotes advocacy, and all nine NGOs involved in the programme and UNICEF, actively engage in joint advocacy campaigns to protect children from sexual abuse, to ensure that those who commit such offenses, are held accountable.

*Name changed to protect child’s identity

By Angelique Reid

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