Phnom Penh’s Youth Given Voice on International Children’s Day

More than 100 underprivileged children living in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district drew, painted, colored and cut Monday to depict their ideal city in an art competition organized by local and international NGOs to celebrate International Children’s Day.

At the Vihea Thom mosque in Chraing Chamreh I commune, children from poor urban communities along the Tonle Sap riverbank talked about their visions for the city.

A girl takes part in an art contest held Monday at Phnom Penh's Vihea Thom mosque to celebrate International Children's Day. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A girl takes part in an art contest held Monday at Phnom Penh’s Vihea Thom mosque to celebrate International Children’s Day. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“I want a beautiful city. I want to have enough schools, hospitals, parks and roads,” said Lifa Rity, an 11-year-old whose team was awarded first place in the competition.

“I want the authorities to help the poor people and please not move the poor people from their community,” said 15-year-old Sles Ravy.

With many families in the area lacking property rights, NGOs Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and People In Need have been working with four villages to try to ensure that families are not evicted from their homes.

“We celebrate International Children’s Day here because we want the authorities and the government to gain interest in the community’s location, where their land is not registered,” said Hang Vong, STT’s technical director.

According to the housing rights NGO, children living in poor urban settlements suffer because of poor access to water, sanitation, sewage, and power, an issue that only worsens when they are evicted.

“Now we are organizing the master plan for the Chraing Chamreh community and we will take it to City Hall to be revised in July or August,” Mr. Vong said. “We want development in the area but we want to avoid the removal [of residents].”

At Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich theater Monday morning, the Cambodia National Council for Children—the government body tasked with protecting the rights of children—also celebrated International Children’s Day with an event attended by about 2,000 schoolchildren and officials.

Unicef country representative Rana Flowers told the crowd that violence against children placed a large burden not only on the victims but also on the economy, citing an ongoing study by Unicef.

“[The study] showed that the economic burden of the selected health consequences of violence against children in Cambodia costs a total of $162 million in 2013 which is approximately 1 percent of the country’s GDP,” she said.

In a circular released Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen also listed a number of issues that continue to confront the country’s children.

“Cambodian children are still facing some problems such as violence to children, drug use, minor disputes with the law, child trafficking, child labor, poor child nutrition, children that stop studying, and child migration,” Mr Hun Sen said.

“We all together must resolve [these issues] on time and correctly.”

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