Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng on Saturday affirmed the government’s duty to protect children.
In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the children’s rights organization Redd Barna, Sar Kheng promised that the new coalition government will make children’s rights a priority.
“Government institutions in charge of human rights will be strengthened in terms of structure, means and actions, and these institutions will cooperate closely with human rights NGOs and other involved institutions, in order to improve…children’s rights in particular,” Sar Kheng, serving as acting prime minister, said at the Hotel Inter-Continental Phnom Penh.
At the conference, Redd Barna Cambodia called for the government to establish a task force to review and strengthen children’s rights.
“The members of Parliament must be conscious of the fact the future is in [Cambodian] children and there must be laws which must protect them, their health, education,” Redd Barna Resident Representative Gunnar Andersen said in an interview after the conference.
One approach to legal reform is the development and adoption of a single comprehensive children’s law, Andersen said. Another is to amend domestic legislation to comply with international standards.
In particular, Cambodia’s labor laws must be improved to clarify what type of work is unsuitable for children, Andersen said. That would cut down on child labor, allow more children to go to school and reduce injuries.
According to a Redd Barna report, 17 percent—or 650,000—of Cambodian children between the ages of 5 and 17 work.
Even when the government does create legislation, Andersen said a general lack of respect for law and law enforcement remains a great obstacle to the government’s efforts.
Still, Andersen said he was hopeful.
“I’m very happy with the commitment the government made here….I hope the government will follow up on it,” Andersen said.
Redd Barna was established in Norway more than 50 years ago in the aftermath of World War II to help ease suffering and build sustainable development. In Cambodia, Redd Barna has been working with children who are disabled, sexually exploited and homeless.
In the coming years, Andersen said, Redd Barna will be assisting the government to establish schools and libraries for children in former Khmer Rouge-controlled zones of the country.