The tragic combination of millions of land mines and poor health care means Cambodia has a high number of disabled children, perhaps the highest in the world, an official said.
That was the starting point Monday at a two-day workshop that hopes to come up with a plan to help those children, especially those who are orphans or who have been abandoned.
“Cambodia is acknowledged as having the highest rate of disabled people in the world,” said Ouk Sisovann, executive director of the Disabilities Action Council.
Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs, cited a 1997 study that put the disability rate at 2 percent of the population, or about 240,000 people out of 12 million.
Since 40 percent of the population is under 18 years of age, children make up a very high percentage of the country’s disabled population, he said.
Cambodian children in general face problems, including poor education—at least one in four has little or no schooling—to poor nutrition, with one in two suffering from malnutrition, he said. Disabled children suffer even more.
“Children with disabilities and their families generally face… added barriers of discrimination,” Ith Sam Heng said.
Add widespread poverty to that mix and “many families feel unable to cope and often neglect, abandon or relinquish their disabled children,” he said.
The workshop, held at the National Institute for Public Health, is jointly sponsored by the ministry and DAC. About 50 officials and social service workers were invited to develop plans to provide housing, medical care and other services to disabled children.
Workshop participants planned to discuss ideas for group housing, foster care, training and education and disability prevention.
, and the need for research and reliable funding for programs.
Organizers hope the participants will offer suggestions to the government on long-term strategies for helping disabled children and their families.