by Mom Chantara Soleil
Eking out difficult lives in the northeastern Ratanakiri of rolling hills, rapidly diminishing forests and grinding poverty, many indigenous minority parents increasingly risk marrying off their girls, as young as 14, to meet labor demand for their traditional rotation farming practices.
The province where at least 80% of children own no identity document, child marriage is systematically hidden and culturally accepted though it is stopping girls from primary school every day.
“We don’t have official figures of child marriage, though it remains a big concern,” says head of provincial department of education, youth and sport Mrs. Chan Kham Khoeur adding that the practice significantly contributes to an average of 7% dropout rate among primary school female students in 2012. Three of five girls from indigenous minority got enrolled for the basic education.
Let alone concerning girl dropouts caused by child marriage, no harmful connection is seen among many Ratanakiri’s indigenous population between the practice and maternal and child deaths.
However, the fact is there – 8 of eleven families randomly interviewed lost at least a child before he or she reached five years old. “No road, no transport, distant health clinic and traditional belief are reasons behind child deliveries mostly attended by traditional midwife,” says Khourn village leader, 75-year-old Nhen Phen.
Plan’s adolescent reproductive health activities are addressing maternal and child deaths caused by child marriage. And early stimulation among small children through bilingual community preschool is increasing primary school transition, including girls.
Lessons learned from ten year experience in addressing child poverty in Cambodia are being applied to pave way toward better future among the most marginalised Cambodian children in the northeast.