BY ANDREW DUBOCK
One hundred children in north west Cambodia, who face neglect and abuse in their lives, are being given the opportunity to turn their lives around through a new mentoring programme.
The Child Protection Mentorship initiative is being run by Viva’s partner network, PEACE Team Cambodia (PTC) in ten communities in Siem Reap, where poverty is widespread and child exploitation is embedded in cultural practices.
The children who have been selected to benefit from the programme all experience difficult family situations and are vulnerable to being abused, physically, emotionally and sexually, or being trafficked to provide poor families with money.
One 12 year-old boy being supported has a violent father. A ten year-old girl says she was raped in secret when she was younger. And another boy, aged 13, is unable to go to school, leaving him at a greater risk of being trafficked.
Trained Christian mentors spend time gaining the children’s trust and allowing them to disclose, in confidence, what has happened to them.
The children are empowered about how to protect themselves in future and taught a range of health and wellbeing topics including the dangers of alcohol and drugs, what happens during puberty, basic hygiene and disease prevention.
Here are a few children’s comments following the training:
“I have learned how to protect myself, and where people should and shouldn’t touch my body.”
“My mentor always encourages me! I have learned that adults must listen to every child, and love and protect them.”
“Normally I just drink any sort of water; I don’t know whether it’s clean or not. Now I know I need to be drinking clean water.”
Many children in Cambodia live on the margins of society, with their families unable to provide basic needs including shelter, healthcare and emotional support. Less than half of students complete their primary school education and the country has one of the highest rates of child labour in the region.
The Global Slavery Index states Cambodia also has the third highest prevalence of forced labour and human trafficking in the world.
PTC is committed to giving marginalised and vulnerable children quality protection and education. It is a network comprising of 40 local churches and three child-focused NGOs who collaborate to reach children and families in Siem Reap.
The city’s history, culture and natural beauty makes it a major tourist destination – but there is a darker side where some children are sexually exploited through working in beer gardens, massage parlours, salons and karaoke bars.
PTC recognises that work needs to be done to raise awareness and change attitudes around trafficking, and also to promote child protection and rights.
This year it has hosted ten community-led, anti-trafficking training sessions, using DVD material, for over 4,500 children and adults, which has increased knowledge of the subject.
Pastors, child protection advocates and mentors also discussed with the adults and community leaders how best to intervene once they recognise that abuse, recruitment or exploitation is taking place, and how to be equipped to respond, manage cases of trafficking and offer crisis counselling.
Additionally, leaders from the 40 churches in the network have run Viva’s Good Treatment Campaign in their neighbourhood during 2017. The advocacy initiative has seen 1,500 children ask almost 4,000 adults to commit to changing their behaviour, giving them a pledge card as a reminder.
Later this year, PTC will open its first two Child Development Centres, which will provide a safe place for children after school, give them educational support and mentor their families. A total of ten are planned, with 25 children aged between five and 14 years old.
Viva’s role is to support PTC with its proven consultancy and development tools, and to help train, advise, monitor, and support it through securing further funding.