Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Cambodia
Cambodia is a small South-East Asian nation bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The nation is still recovering from the damages wrought by the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled from 1951 – 1999. The unfortunate legacies are numerous. Despite this, Cambodia is making strides to face the many challenges that being a rising developing nation entails. Overall, living conditions in Cambodia are steadily improving.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Cambodia

  1. Cambodia has a population of 15.9 million people. Ninety percent of them are of Khmer origin while the remaining 10 percent are Vietnamese, Chinese or a member of another minority. The country is made up of predominantly rural dwellers, who have settled in villages in areas near rivers. Only 12 percent of the population lives in the capital, Phnom Penh.
  2.  The average life expectancy is 67 years old for males and 71 years for females. The median age of the population is 24. There is a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Cambodia, among the highest in Asia. In 2016, 71,000 people were living with HIV. The government is making concerted efforts to combat this illness and increase awareness of how to keep it from spreading.
  3. Health care is an issue that the government is overlooking as it makes strides in its policies to benefit its people. Health care only comprises 1 percent of the overall GDP. There is a massive disparity between the quality and availability of medical resources in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, many people are forced to travel long distances to get the care that they need. The Social Security System currently in place only covers employment injuries for formal workers, making it hard to get coverage.
  4. The education system in Cambodia was largely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge Revolution when education was banned. Schools were destroyed and teachers were executed. The government is making great efforts to build this system back up, dedicating 18.31 percent of the national budget to education. They have almost achieved universal access to primary education at 97.7 percent. Cambodia has strengthened gender parity with girls making up 48.2 percent of students. The country has built 1,000 new schools in the last 10 years.
  5. The Cambodian government is dedicated to child protection. It is improving child development and strengthening child protection services by addressing violence against children and the use of residential care institutions. The government has a goal to reduce the use of these institutions by 30 percent and to prevent family and child separation.
  6. While poverty has decreased significantly in Cambodia, many families survive while hovering just above the poverty line of $1.25 per day. Three of four people live on less than $3 a day. Most of these people are rural, but urban poverty is also on the rise.
  7. Urban slums account for 25 percent of the population of Phnom Penh. These areas face many challenges, including poor sanitation and hygiene, high rates of diarrhea and malnutrition. They lack toilets, decent drainage and garbage disposal systems. These slums are overcrowded and ridden with poverty and domestic violence.
  8. One in four women are survivors of physical, emotional or sexual violence. One in five women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence by the age of 15. In Cambodian society, violence against women is frowned upon, but domestic violence is acceptable. This creates a culture where women have the pretense of protection but are not safe in their own homes.
  9. Cambodia’s elderly population is growing as they become more prosperous. People above 60 years of age makeup 6.34 percent of the population, at 849,911 people. The country expects this population to triple in the coming decades. They are a largely forgotten group of people in development and democracy debates. Most presume that they are taken care of by their families. These people contribute to society by taking care of children and those afflicted with HIV and AIDS.
  10. There is a general disregard in Cambodia for those with disabilities. They are generally denied normal opportunities to live comfortably and improve their lives. Because of this injustice, they often end up begging on the street to feed themselves and their families. Rehabilitation centers are limited in cities and rural areas, particularly for children and women with disabilities.

While the national government is putting intense focus on improving living conditions in Cambodia, there are still aspects that need work. The country needs to focus on poverty, domestic violence and those with disabilities to try to protect their citizens from the pain they receive at home and then increase the health care accessibility so that these victims can receive the care that they need.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

The Political Promise of Young CambodiansUSAID sponsors Next Generation, a televised youth debate in Cambodia. The debate is intended to encourage peaceful political discussion among young Cambodians in a country that values “saving face” and non-confrontation.

These practices are extremely harmful to productive political discussion. Next Generation aims to mitigate the consequences of these social constructs by inspiring young people in Cambodia to engage in debates.

The weekly TV show hosts 24 young adults for a 30-minute debate on issues such as poverty, the electoral system, Facebook censorship and gender quotas. The program hopes to foster a culture of constructive political discussion among the future leaders of Cambodia.

24-year-old Linda Eang won the debate in 2014. She had been a shy child, and her family tried to discourage her from pursuing politics, since being a politician can be dangerous in Cambodia. After learning in school about the state of poverty and healthcare in Cambodia, Eang decided that she wanted to be part of the solution, despite the vast challenges of the field.

After graduating from university, Eang decided she wanted to focus on coaching other young Cambodians. She expressed that “the greatest barriers for young people in Cambodia are the lack of trust and motivation from the environment around us” and that Cambodians “are taught to be followers”.

Eang believes that young people can become more empowered and bring positive change to their country by getting an education. She aims to coach young people to eloquently express themselves and to have self-confidence.

Another forum for the empowerment of young people in Cambodia is Politikoffee, a community that meets weekly to discuss politics and drink coffee. The meetings started with Channy Chheng and three friends who enjoyed drinking coffee and discussing topics like policy, economics, education and agriculture.

The group decided that their conversations would benefit from more people bringing additional knowledge to their discussions, so they started Politikoffee as a platform for Cambodians to engage in political debates, free from restrictive cultural norms. Productive political argumentation is counter to traditional Khmer culture, which encourages respect for elders and the status quo.

For member Chea Veasner, these open and honest conversations are something she cannot have at her university. Veasner notes that many of her Cambodian friends do not like to argue and will not voice their opinions when given the chance.

Politikoffee provides a safe environment for Cambodia’s young, ambitious people to discuss ideas rarely discussed elsewhere. Despite assumptions that young Cambodians are not interested in politics, many actually are passionate about politics because social injustice is blatant.

Opportunities like Next Generation and Politikoffee allow Cambodia’s youths to overcome restrictive cultural norms and are fueling future political change. According to a Politikoffee’s social media representative, “Youth, from my experience, all have a vision of what their Cambodia should be, and for the vast majority of them, it’s a Cambodia that is very different from their parents.”

Kristen Nixon
Photo: Flickr