Sounding the Alarm on Child Marriage in Cambodia

by Mom Chantara Soleil

In Andoung Meas district about 70 kilometers to the northeast from Banlung provincial town of Cambodia’s Ratanak Kiri province, P and K, cousins, were born 17 years ago in the same week. They got married in the same year in their late 14s as they were in grades three. And their first child died last two years, again the same year – the difference is P’s son died of weak health after a week old while K’s one could not survive the measles before his first month of birth.

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Phay, 46, shares the commune with the two cousins but she settled down in a far flung village deep into the forest, passing through mountainous dusty red-dirt roads busied with daily transports of illegal loggers and food paths. Amount of travel time to her place depends on how fast a tiny wooden ferry boat can cross the Sesan river that connects Ratanak Kiri province to Vietnam. And she has a sad story to tell, too.

“My daughter got married when she as 14. The health center is too far and we could not effort to stay there long enough as my daughter gave birth to the first child. After a week at home my daughter died. Her husband disappeared, leaving me taking care of my grandson who is now three years old,” says Phay thanking an NGO without its monthly supply of milk and some cash she would not have enough to feed the little boy.

These are two of unfortunate child marriage cases disabling potential of many children especially in Ratanak Kiri and in many circumstances threatening health and lives of girls from the province’s ethnic minority girls – a reason for Plan International Cambodia to recently launch its call for the stop of child marriage.

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According to the Gender Specialist, Ek Sophanna, series of awareness raising events both at the organisation’s three target provinces and national level in March 2014 intends to sound the alarm, grounding on a concrete study, to all concerned government bodies and development agencies for a joint effort to end child marriage and promote schooling.

“Based on our study, children, particular girls in some of our targeted areas are denied access to education due to issues of child marriage. There are cultural and economical reasons behind this denial of their basic rights. Child bride are physically not ready for reproduction and psychologically not ready to take care of their children,” says Mr. Supriyanto, Country Director of Plan International Cambodia.

He adds: “As a child centered organisation, we have to address this issue. The study will help us make an in-depth analysis of the issue and raise the concerns to relevant institutions and stakeholders for a collective intervention to end child marriage.”

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