The Status of Women and the Girl-Child in Cambodia

12/11/2009 - Cambodia’s biggest challenge at the moment is improving the status of young girls and women by responding to high maternal mortality, preventing orphans, gender inequality, and human trafficking.

Cambodia’s biggest challenge at the moment is improving the status of young girls and women.

On the most basic level, this includes reducing the number of women who die in child birth—the maternal mortality rate.

While the country has gone to great lengths to reduce its child mortality rate (the number of children who die before their fifth birthdays) in addition to its infant mortality rate (the number of children who die before their first birthdays), it has failed to make substantial improvements to the maternal mortality rate (MMR).

Today, for every 100 000 births, 460 women die in child birth. The same figure for Canada amounts to only 7 deaths per 100 000. The goal for 2015, according to the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals, is to more than halve this number, bringing it down to less than 150 per 100 000. The main causes of death are massive blood loss and complications caused by high blood pressure. As such, access to skilled birth attendants and adequate medical care (both ante- and neonatal) is essential to improve the health of women of child-bearing age.

Reducing the MMR is also an important of means of reducing the number of children without parental care—orphans.  Children without mothers are more likely to be neglected than children with both a mother and a father.
Moreover, newborns—to be as healthy as possible and sustain the greatest chances of survival—depend on the nutrients obtained in breast-milk.  The full complement of vitamins and minerals contained therein prevent malnutrition, stunting, and other early childhood development impairments.  All in all, breast-milk is an important means of continuing the reduction of child and infant mortality rates.

As for girls, less than 15% continue their studies into secondary school and scarcely a half are enrolled in primary school. As such, their potential to gain higher-paying employment and to be empowered by the knowledge, confidence and access to information education brings is diminished. One Cambodian newspaper insists that traditional gender roles represent one of the greatest impediments to educating girls. 

These problems of illiteracy and a lack of education can spill over into the maternal mortality crisis. For, if women don’t have access to medical care, they won’t learn the information that will protect them and their babies—including information related to sexual health, nutrition, healthy living, and environmental health.

However, one of the greatest dangers to girls and women in Cambodia and other parts of the southern and eastern Asian regions is human trafficking for the sex industry and for domestic labour, where they encounter some of the most brutal and violent forms of abuse, many of which violate the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.