Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Positive parenting reduces violence against children and keeps families together in Cambodia

By Ayphalla Te and Miho Yoshikawa

Sen Nary and her youngest son, Sreng Karanapich,
are holding each other at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Ayphalla Te

Phnom Penh, May 2017 – Mother of three, Sen Nary is the embodiment of the benefits of positive parenting – an approach that builds communication and respect and leads to healthier and happier family ties. 


Nary, 40, has turned her life around and those of her children after taking part in positive parenting training sessions with her husband Ben Sreng.

It is easy to see why Nary needed assistance. She lives a demanding life and juggles work with the care of her children.

Every morning she cycles 6km from her home to the riverside next to the Royal Palace where she makes a living selling seeds to tourists who feed the birds near the Palace grounds. Nary was an orphan and cannot even remember her parents’ faces. She has limited education, having been forced to quit school at Grade 3.

Her husband Sreng, a tuk-tuk driver, lost his father when he was very young and he never attended school. The couple struggle to support their children.

Both work seven days a week, from dawn until dusk. In the past, their hardship sometimes overwhelmed them and caused them to be violent towards their children.

Nary said she used to reprimand and hit her children when she returned from work if the home was untidy, or her children were disobedient.

“I used to scold and hit my children when I was angry. I pinched their ears. Every day I felt heavy like a stone was inside my body. I asked [myself] why my children were so disobedient and why they could not be like other children. And then I felt hurt and wanted to hit my children.”

Nary said that she suffered from stress and often felt resentful towards her children.

 “My children did not listen to us. Also, we did not listen to them.”

A national survey conducted in 2013 by the Government of Cambodia with UNICEF’s support found that over 50 per cent of children in the country have experienced some form of violence. The report revealed parents were the most common perpetrators of physical and emotional violence directed to children.

Although a family is the primary safety net for children, many parents and caregivers suffering hardships believe their children are better off in residential care, unaware of the risks and have little knowledge of more suitable alternatives. This often results in unnecessary family separation.

Acknowledging the importance of supporting parents and caregivers to reduce violence and unnecessary family separation, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) has made a commitment to promote positive parenting.

This is a method of child-raising based on mutual respect that provides children with safe, stable and nurturing environments so they can develop into healthy, respectful and productive adults.

To prevent violence against children and help keep families together by promoting positive parenting and increased access to appropriate child-rearing support, UNICEF assisted MoWA to develop and launch the ‘Positive Parenting Strategy’, together with training toolkits, in December 2017.

This strategy serves as a guide for professionals working with children and families so they can provide more coordinated and quality support for parents and caregivers.

Since November 2017, Nary and Sreng have attended 12 positive parenting sessions organized by UNICEF’s NGO partner; Improving Cambodia’s Society through Skillful Parenting (ICS-SP). This intervention uses MoWA’s positive parenting training toolkits.

Sen Nary and her husband, Ben Sreng
attend a session on positive parenting in Phnom Penh.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Bunly Meas 

Through this activity, Nary and Sreng have learnt about different forms of violence; its negative impacts; and the risks of not providing adequate care and protection for children.

The training brought back painful memories of Nary’s tough childhood.

“When I attended the training and the trainer talked about the negative impacts of violence and unnecessary family separation, I cried because I recalled being a child without parents. I had to live with others and I was abused by them,” she said.

The parenting sessions have raised Nary and Sreng’s awareness about stress management and how to discipline their children without violence; as well as how to create positive relationships.

“I have started using sweet words with my children. My children now listen to me better,” Nary said.

“I learned to talk nicely to my children, my wife and my neighbour,” Sreng added. “When we use bad words, children do not want to come close. When we use good and sweet words, they come to play with us.”

Sen Nary and Ben Sreng attend a session
on positive parenting in Phnom Penh.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Bunly Meas


The training has also changed Sreng’s perception about a father’s role. Previously, he thought his only role was to make money and he did not help much with domestic chores.

Now he helps with family duties such as cooking and assisting with the laundry.

Although Nary and Sreng still struggle to earn a living, they are now more confident in their ability to practice positive parenting and provide their children with a non-violent home environment.

Their youngest son, Sreng Karanapich, a Grade 5 student, said he feels more comfortable being around his parents. “I love my parents. I study hard and want to work for a bank in the future so I can make lots of money to support my parents back.”

Sen Nary, Ben Sreng and their son, Sreng Karanapich,
are pictured at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Ayphalla Te

A Royal Government of Cambodia–UNICEF study released in 2015 revealed that Cambodia lost at least estimated 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 demonstrates that violence against children is not only fundamentally wrong – it is also harmful to a country’s social and economic progress.

With financial support from USAID, UNICEF is working with government counterparts to expand the positive parenting programme so more parents and caregivers can play a role in creating a safe and non-violent environment for their children.

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