Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Protecting the ‘bamboo shoots of the country’ – the role of youth and religious leaders

By Ayphalla Te and Kanha Chan

Vat Sereyroth is passionate about advocating for youth.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Ayphalla Te

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 2018 – Nineteen-year-old Vat Sereyroth is a high-school student who is using her youthful energy to initiate change and make Cambodia a safer place for children to grow up in.

Sereyroth wishes to become a social worker, and is passionate about advocating for youth and ending violence against children. She is a member of the Adolescent and Youth Reference Group (AYRG), a network of young people from 19 NGOs who are active in policy dialogue and advocacy for children and youth.

Despite her young age, Sereyroth is a veteran campaigner and along with her peers she has been active in organizing school-based activities with children, conducting household visits to distribute campaign materials and addressing communities about the devastating consequence of violence against children and the positive action adults should adopt.

Twenty-two-year-old Venerable Rem Namchhiev is also a member of the AYRG. As a Buddhist monk he believes religion has an important role in ending violence against children.

Since 2015, Sereyroth and Venerable Namchhiev have both actively participated in an annual 16-day campaign to raise awareness about online sexual exploitation of children and to inspire youth to break the cycle of violence against women and children. In 2017, this intervention reached over 114,000 people.

Venerable Rem Namchhiev at his residential pagoda in Phnom Penh.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Ayphalla Te

Initiated in 1991, the 16-day campaign is an annual global movement of activism against gender-based violence and held from late November to early December.

Due to her own direct experience of violence in her family and neighbourhood, Sereyroth has a deep personal insight.

“The 16-day campaign is very important. Although the adults might not stop committing violence right away, we can reduce the violence. When a person is more informed, they will think twice before committing any violence.” says Sereyroth.

Sereyroth with students in a Muslim school she and her group
visited during the 16-day campaign.
© KYA/AYRG/2017/Seng Ratha

Venerable Namchhiev’s inspiration for joining the youth group and backing the annual movement comes from his deep concern for children.

He says: “I love children. Children are the bamboo shoots of our country, yet they are vulnerable to violence from adults. It is the role of Buddhist monks in Cambodian society to share the Buddha’s teaching about the negative impact of violence and the protection of children.”

With this in mind, Venerable Namchhiev has visited Buddhist high schools to encourage monks to adopt non-violent disciplinary methods when teaching young novices.
He also said Buddhist monks can be effective agents-of-change by placing child protection messages more prominently in community preaching.

In 2017, with support from UNICEF and in collaboration with the NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child (NGOCRC) and the Khmer Youth Association (KYA), AYRG organized school and community events and social media campaigns which inspired major discussion about child protection in which Sereyroth and Venerable Namchhiev have played a key role.

Studies show that a non-violent learning and living environment leads to higher levels of social competence, higher cognitive and language skills and improved academic achievement which help build a nation’s human capital resource and ultimately, its greater wealth.

According to the Cambodia Violence Against Children Survey (CVACS) conducted in 2013, one in two children has experienced severe beating; one in four emotional abuse; and 1 in 20 have faced sexual assault.

A study conducted by the government of Cambodia with UNICEF support in 2015 revealed that Cambodia lost at least USD$168 million in 2013, or 1.1 per cent of its GDP, as a result of the negative impact of some of the health consequences caused by violence against children.

This is evidence that violence against children is not only fundamentally wrong – it is also detrimental to a country’s social and economic progress.

Realizing the importance of the 16-day campaign and the important role youth and religious leaders can play in advocating the protection of children, UNICEF has been supporting AYRG’s 16-day campaign and helped build its youth members’ skills and the group’s institutional capacity so inspirational people like Sereyroth and Venerable Namchhiev are more equipped to advocate for a safer society for Cambodian children.

Vat Sereyroth with Venerable Rem Namchhiev
and AYRG peers receiving their certificate of appreciation
from Ms. Marta Santo Pais,
Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General
on Violence Against Children,
at the UNICEF Cambodia office in December 2017.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Iman Morooka

Through her work on the 16-day campaign with other AYRG’s youth members, Sereyroth said she hopes that “Cambodia will become a nation with a strong rule of law, which values education and provides full protection to children.”

Venerable Namchhiev is committed to continuing his work in the protection of children and making meaningful impact to his country. He said:” I am motivated by my desire to give back to the society. I wish to expand the impact of my work on child protection to many more areas of the country and people. I have been using Buddha’s non-violent principles to educate monks and communities since 2015, and I think child protection has become my life’s mission.” 

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