Program Officer, Rathnak Phorn from the NGO COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD called NGOCRC for short. He talks openly about his role in NGORC and the challenges surrounding children rights in Cambodia. With the problems of human trafficking and cross border trafficking rife, and very little juvenile justice laws in place in Cambodia and with the criminal justice system still emerging, the NGOCRC shares their struggle to act as an advocate for children rights in Cambodia.
What are some of your basic objectives in NGOCRC?
NGOCRC was incorporated to fill the need to fight for the following in Cambodia
- Act as an advocate for child rights;
- Organize a functional Children’s Committee;
- Monitor the implementation of UNCRC in Cambodia;
- Submit supplementary report on the implementation of UNCRC in Cambodia to the United Nations CRC Committee;
- Strengthen its capability (Executive Committee, Secretariat and NGO members)
You have close to 40 member NGOs supporting your umbrella network in Cambodia. What are the contributions of some of these member NGOs in relation to Child protection?
Nowadays, NGOCRC has 50 international and local NGO members who are supporting its umbrella network in Cambodia. In the relation to child protection, NGOCRC has a special thematic working group on child protection. There are 14 NGO members, who are working on the legal aids, child rights, laws and policies related to children, in the working group. When there is a special case related to children that the individual NGO member is not able to take any action, NGOCRC as the national coordination body will work with this thematic working group on child protection to provide a special supports/intervention and do advocacy at the national level for special intervention from the Cambodian government or positive changed in the future.
What are some of the challenges that you face in the protection of children from abuse in Cambodia? Are the Cambodian laws favourable in the protection of children rights in Cambodia? What more can be done?
The most challenges that we face in the protection of children from abuse in Cambodia is the children contact to the law. The justice system in Cambodia is still emerging and ill equipped to respond to the needs of children who come into contact with the law whether as victims, witnesses or offenders. Inadequate judicial and law-enforcement contribute to the problem of violence, exploitation and abuse of both boys and girls in Cambodia. There is still no independent mechanism to receive and address complaints from children concerning violation of their rights. Necessary procedures and facilities for dealing with minor in criminal justice system are still lacking. As a result, children are routinely processed through the criminal justice system and prosecuted as adults. Even though, Cambodia has already ratified on the UNCRC since 1992, it is still not useful and effective in the (implementation) of the justice system. Thus, Cambodia does need a juvenile justice laws and system that is the most priority action of the CSOs who are working on child rights at the national level. In this last quarter 2015, NGOCRC with cooperation with its NGO members is developing the child friendly police framework, which is the manual for the police and local authorities to enable them to practice their obligations to ensure the best interest of children in criminal cases in Cambodia.
What are some of the programs related to child abuse and trafficking that you have rolled out over the years? What are some of the more successful programs and impact on child abuse on the Communities?
According to the basic objectives of NGOCRC and as the coordination body, NGOCRC secretariat does not have some of the programs related to child abuse and trafficking. Anyway, some our NGO members have the programs that are related more to these issues.
Is child labour and sexual abuse among children still a major concern to NGORC or do we see other forms of child abuse in Cambodia? How can these abuses be stopped?
Yes, of course it is still a major concern based on the Ministry of Planning, Child Labour Survey 2012 and Plan International’s Final Program Evaluation 2013. I don’t think these abuses can be stopped but I have optimistic thinking that these abuses can decrease to a minimum if Cambodia has good and strong juvenile justice laws and system in place.
Are the abuses linked to any organized criminal groups or criminal syndicates that are located both in Cambodia and overseas ?
According to Rathnak, Cambodia does not have criminal syndicates that are located both in Cambodia and overseas but has a monitoring unit called the National Committee for Combatting Human Trafficking (NCCT). It is the national and sub-national mechanism under the umbrella of the Ministry of Interior with involvement from all departments of government, UN agencies and national and international NGOs throughout the country. NCCT cooperate with the Interpol for crime related to Cambodian people that occurs outside Cambodia.
A source from the Anti –Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office (ATJPO) in Phnom Penh said that human trafficking was a perennial problem especially women that were forced into prostitution in Cambodia. You have to understand that the drug problem takes a larger chunk of finances on the part of the government rather than human trafficking. As the drug trade is considered a higher profile crime rather than the abuse of human rights caused by illegal trafficking. Many of them involved in human trafficking find their way into Malaysia and Thailand. The source explained that the Cambodian border police were easily tempted by payments of around US$20 per person that was smuggled over to Malaysia or Thailand. Due to the poor wages of the Cambodian border police, there is a close working affinity between the organized criminal groups and the Cambodian border police. There are cases where special teams from the Ministry of Home Affairs do arrests suspects involved in human trafficking but its pressure from the top and from some high level government official before some action is taken. According to the source most of the human trafficking is done by local criminal groups and not overseas criminal groups in Cambodian territory.
How active are criminal groups and criminal syndicates involved in child trafficking across borders in Cambodia. Are there studies that have been done regarding them?
According to a source from the Anti –Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office (ATJPO) in Phnom Penh, there are some studies done on trying to measure the seriousness of the problem that is created by human and child trafficking across the border. However the studies are outdated as far back as 2003 and 2004. There are no recent studies made. Most of the studies are done so by human rights groups that have decided to sponsor these studies. Most of the time action is taken by ATJPO for prostitution rather than human trafficking. Prison terms vary from 2 years to 15 years depending on the severity of the crime and also what evidence is obtained by NGOs like us and the border patrol including the police force. However with the current rate of human and child trafficking across borders, it is hard to come up with recent statistics on the number of arrests. Trends have indicated that human and child trafficking cases has increased over the years rather than decreasing. That shows how severe the problem is currently. If nothing is done it is more a lack of resources including funding commitments on the side of NGOs. Most of the work we do is more on a volunteer basis rather than full time. We need full time employees to assist us with containing and reducing this problem. This is a permanent problem, he countered.
Has the Cambodian government been supportive of the programs and missions that have been organized by NGORC? What are some of the positive changes that you have seen over the last few years?
Yes, the Cambodian government has been supportive of the programs and missions that have been organized by NGORC. The following are some positive changes in the last few years:
Ø Promoting Child participation by the government
- Children’s representatives from child led groups/networks are recognized and involved in the meetings on development plan and child issues by Cambodian Children and Woman Council (CCWC) and the Commune Council (CC).
- The children’s representatives are invited and involved in all the meetings of Cambodian National Council for Children (CNCC) in both provincial and national levels.
- In all national and subnational action commissions/committees on children, at least two children’s representatives are compositional in the commissions/committees.
Ø Reporting to UN on the implementation of the UNCRC by the government
- The CNCC has higher responsibility in the reporting the implementation of the UNCRC to UN committee. CNCC prepares very good full reports and provides clearer responses/feedback on the recommendations from the UN committee.
- The processes of the reporting and responding on the recommendations are much more opened for CSOs and key stakeholders.
How do you raise funds for your work in Cambodia? Are you supported by international relief organizations? Or are you self-funded by sponsors or patrons in Cambodia? Do you get support from CSOs and NGOs outside of Cambodia?
NGOCRC is supported by two international organizations, Plan International and Save the children. We are also self-funded through the membership fee every year from our NGO members and providing consultancy service on child rights expert.
Are there specific messages you would like to inform the readers of Asian Thinkers.com Perhaps this might be an avenue to create more awareness about your cause in Cambodia and Asia ?
Children in Cambodia face many survival challenges that push them into abuses. Until now there are no juvenile justice laws and system in Cambodia and criminal justice system is still emerging and ill equipped to respond to the needs of children who come into contact with the law whether as victims, witnesses or offenders. Thus, children in Cambodia should be paid more special attention in order to serve the best interest of them.