Guidelines Laid Out for Helping Women, Children at Commune Level

Across Cambodia, women and children in need are unable to travel to Phnom Penh for basic services–so their communities should be better trained to help them, government and UN officials agreed yesterday.

In guidelines for local officials unveiled in Phnom Penh yesterday, a national working group on the devolution of public administration required local committees for women and children to offer assistance to women in labor, to help in improving sanitary standards and to meet with the parents of truant schoolchildren.

These committees play an important role in assisting local women and children especially those from poor families, said Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry.

“If we can reduce the death rate of women and children in all communes across the country, it means we achieve the Millennium Development Goals to reduce maternal and child mortality,” Mr Setha said.

But the committees–composed of local representatives from different sectors such as health, education and police–still face a lack capacity and resources, he said.

One “critical issue in Cambodia” is sexual violence against women, such as rape and sexual assault, and a member of the police on the committee could help punish the crime, he said.

“The police just solve the case, but the authorities need to prevent,” he said, noting that other measures, such as ensuring safe access to schools for female students, can also be taken.

The guidelines on maternal health, preschool education, sanitation, gender issues and social protection aim to improve local cooperation between social sector ministries to address local problems, said Scott Leiper, senior program adviser for the UNDP–which, along with Unicef, is financially supporting the committees this year.

Communes can fulfill their obligations to women and children by taking a number of actions, including paying for a pregnant woman to get to the hospital when she goes into labor, establishing preschools and building latrines, he said.

Next year UNDP allocations to the committees will end, leaving them to draw on the commune council’s annual budget, which is often heavily spent on infrastructure, he said.

“They don’t have to switch [priorities], but balance it out more, give attention to social issues.”


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