Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Youth voices tackling violence against children in Cambodia

By Sam Waller

21-year-old Tuy Raksmey, who is a member of the UNICEF Youth Representative Group and will represent Cambodian youth during the creation of Cambodia’s action plan to tackle violence against children
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 12 August 2015 – Dressed smartly with a traditional Cambodian krama scarf around her neck, Tuy Raksmey is a young woman with a mission. “I want to help to end violence against children in Cambodia,” she tells me. “I experienced violence as a child and my neighbours use violence against their children too. I want to contribute to a solution.”

Many of Cambodia’s children and adolescents experience violence – often physical but also emotional violence and sexual abuse. Cambodia’s Violence against Children Survey (CVACS), launched in October 2014, revealed that more than 50 per cent of young people surveyed had been the victim of physical violence as a child.

21-year-old Raksmey is one of 20 adolescents and young people who are ensuring that Cambodian youth have a voice in the country’s response to violence against children (VAC), as members of the UNICEF Youth Representative Group. The group receives technical support from UNICEF and funding from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development through Together for Girls.

The Royal Government of Cambodia has recently set up a dedicated Steering Committee for Violence against Women and Violence against Children. This steering committee is tasked with developing an action plan to respond to VAC in Cambodia, and the government has requested that the youth representatives play an important role in the process.

Members of the UNICEF Youth Representative Group during their training in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller

At least two youth representatives – who are all aged between 17 and 27 – will participate in every technical working group meeting during the formulation of the action plan. There are four technical working groups, each with a specific focus: prevention; response; law and policies; monitoring and evaluation. The youth representatives will have a strong voice on these technical working groups, which report directly to the steering committee. By reporting to the decision-making body, these young people will ensure that youth perspectives are a key part of Cambodia’s strategy to combat violence against children.

The Youth Representative Group has members from a variety of backgrounds, who have been selected to represent a cross section of Cambodian young people. They have received comprehensive training focusing on topics including child protection, child rights, findings from the CVACS survey, leadership, communication and advocacy strategies. The group will be supported to prepare for each working group meeting and will debrief afterwards with actions and recommendations.

Tuy Raksmey takes part in an interactive session during UNICEF Youth Representative Group training in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller

“It is vital that young people are part of the process to formulate Cambodia’s response to violence against children and the wider child protection response,” says Bruce Grant, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF Cambodia. “They bring ideas and views to the table that come from their direct experiences.”

Another member of the group is 17-year-old So Seam Sokim, a Grade 8 student in Phnom Penh. “Violence against children is a big issue in Cambodia,” he explains. “It’s still a cultural practice among many elders. I joined this group to explain to parents to stop violence against children and to help children to understand their own rights.”

17-year-old So Seam Sokim, who is a member of the UNICEF Youth Representative Group and a Grade 8 student in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller

During the working group meetings, Sokim and his fellow group members will share their experiences of violence against children, discuss the causes of violence and consider how youth can reduce violence against children in their own communities. Sokim – who is blind – is determined to give a voice to all children, including those with disabilities. “I need to help to change cultural ideas about violence against children, especially for disabled and poor children. But I cannot do it alone. I will work with UNICEF and the government, contributing my best to help stop violence.” 

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