Thursday, November 17, 2016

Young empowering the young and advancing children’s rights

By Chansereypich Seng

Cambodian youth are mobilising to eliminate violence against children (VAC) through inspired initiatives.

One such committed supporter for this cause is 23 year-old Sreynich Seng who recently graduated from the Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh with a major in International Relations. This follows on from her bachelor degree in English instruction at the Cambodia Mekong University, also in the capital city.

Armed with her solid academic background and as a member of the youth representative group working with UNICEF on the topic of ending violence against children, Sreynich is an eloquent advocate with a wealth of knowledge and experience for someone so young.

Sreynich during training with UNICEF Cambodia
Photo supplied by Sreynich

In the run-up to Universal Children’s Day on 20 November  – an annual event commemorated to promote international togetherness and awareness of children’s rights– Sreynich spoke to us of her desire to play a leading part in promoting children’s wellbeing.

Born into a middle-class family in Takeo province in the southwest of Cambodia, Sreynich developed an initial connection with UNICEF through a group called the Joint of Youth Cambodia (JOY) which was started by her international relations class in 2014.

This group became involved with UNICEF during a 16 day campaign to promote the ‘End of Violence’ cause when Sreynich was involved in giving presentations on this topic in secondary and high schools.

This involved a heavy focus on primary and secondary schools in Kampot province, particularly in Kampong Trach and Chhouk districts. The advocates addressed not only the topic of ending violence against children but also other children’s rights issues.

Sreynich said her involvement with UNICEF has developed her ability to undertake more intensive long-term children’s rights activism.

She has participated in many training sessions organized by UNICEF, including basic rights for children, human rights and other related topics not covered by her international relations degree and these have equipped her to be a more effective advocate, especially in utilizing social media channels.

She said: “These are great assets for me to understand how to be a good citizen and serve my country in the long run.

“I have also improved my social networking skills while volunteering with UNICEF. I now know more people whose passions match with mine.

“It has been a great experience and collectively we can be a stronger voice in our joint cause to end violence against children.”

Sreynich (bottom left) with her team after delivering presentation at a
secondary school in Kampong Trach District, Kampot Province


Sreynich said her greatest personal achievement so far has been taking a leap from the comfort zone of her hometown to Phnom Penh where she lived alone in a small rented room and worked part-time to complete both bachelor degrees.

This has given her a profound perspective of her country, particularly of how people in a developed urban environment are more aware of children’s rights and she has taken this message back home to spread in her home town.

 “When I went back home and saw people hitting little kids, I told them the bad impact of violence against children,” she said.

“Notably, they listened and then used other means to instruct their children about what is right and wrong and I am happy to see that.”

Sreynich said she values her community service as a highly worthwhile experience.

“When I participated in field work, I met many marginalized people who did not get proper treatment and I listened to their stories.

“Every person is entitled to their human rights, but not many people realize that. Therefore, I tried to spread the word and help them gain a greater voice in their own communities.”

She said she has had a strong interest in activism from an early age.

From early childhood, I saw people from various organizations came to my school to educate. They came with good intentions and left huge impressions on me. I want to be like them one day so that my life can be more colourful and meaningful.

“I have witnessed many instances of exploitation in this country where many people have had to flee from their home to somewhere else far away to avoid a potentially damaging or dangerous situation.
“This is still occurring. I want to be a part of a solution that ends this.”

Sreynich (third from the right) and other youth representatives took photo after 
completing all the training provided by UNICEF Cambodia
Photo supplied by Sreynich

Keep going and never give up

Making reference to her personal motto of: “Keep going and never give up,” Sreynich said her ultimate goal is to open a language school, specifically one that provides English instruction, in her hometown.

She said this would enable her to educate more people and let them communicate across language barriers so that they can better understand human rights – and knowing these rights, be in a stronger position to achieve them.

“I hope that every child in this country will get at least a high school education to provide them with a foundation for life,” she added.

The UNICEF Youth Representative Group has members from a variety of backgrounds who have been selected to represent a cross section of Cambodian young people and cover a wide range of issues affecting the young.

In order to undertake this approach more effectively, they receive comprehensive technical support training in topics as diverse as child protection, children’s rights, leadership, communication, and advocacy strategies.

As Cambodia is an overwhelmingly youthful nation, with two out of three people below the age of 25, fostering and empowering young people and engaging them in promoting children’s rights is critical for building a better future for the whole society.

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