Despite decades and millions of dollars of international aid, Cambodia remains among the 10 worst places in the world to be a mother or a child, ranking alongside some of the poorest countries in Africa, according to a Save the Children-USA report released this week.
Cambodia ranked 100th out of the 110 countries in Save the Children’s “State of the World’s Mothers” report. Cambodia and Nepal are the only Asian nations, among African countries such as Eritrea, Gambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the bottom of the list.
The Save the Children report stated that the countries were ranked according to factors including infant mortality, survival rates for women during childbirth, literacy rates for women and access to clean water in determining its rankings. Of the 110 nations studied, 19 were in the developed world and 91 were developing countries.
Ly Sophat, program director at Friends/Mith Samlanh, an NGO serving street children, agreed with Cambodia’s ranking.
“One hundred out of 110 is accurate…according to what we have in reality in Cambodia today,” Ly Sophat said Thursday. According to a report by the UN Children’s Fund in December, Cambodia was ranked as having the worst infant mortality rate in East Asia. Unicef reported that 45 percent of Cambodian children are malnourished, 45 percent have not been immunized against measles, and 66 percent do not have access to safe water.
Dr Severin von Xylander, medical officer for child health and development for the World Health Organization, however, said Thursday that Cambodia has come a long way, and expressed skepticism over the Save the Children report’s dire findings.
“I don’t know if one can sustain that,” he said of Cambodia’s ranking as one of the worst places for mothers.
“One should pay attention to mother and child issues, for instance, child mortality rates and mother’s literacy rates…. The government recognizes that,” he said.
Repeated attempts to reach officials with the Ministry of Health were unsuccessful Thursday.
Health Minister Nuth Sokhom said he couldn’t immediately comment. Secretaries of state Ung Phirun and Mam Bunheang said they were busy in meetings.
Chan Rith, 20, a homeless mother in Phnom Penh, said she and her husband earn a combined 5,000 riel a day, collecting and selling plastic bottles and scrap.
“That’s enough [to feed the family] for the morning, but in the evening, there’s almost nothing,” she said Thursday, from the fly-infested sidewalk in Phnom Penh, where she lives with her husband and one-year-old daughter.
She said she worries about her daughter’s future and what will happen when it comes time to enroll her in school.
“I can’t afford a house or to register her [for school].”
Chan Rith said she doesn’t want her daughter to grow up this way, but she doesn’t feel she has a choice.
“There’s no way to move,” she said. “I don’t think there is another better place.”