This research paper explored the various ways in which Cambodian parents seek to fulfil the development needs of their children. Adopting a theoretical framework which draws from the work of theorists and practitioners in the field of child development, the paper focused on three groups of child development needs: basic needs, cognitive development needs (inclusive of social development needs), and emotional development needs. In doing so, challenges associated with parenting were also discussed. The paper also assessed support structures in place to ease the challenges associated with parenting. While this paper is informed by data collected in two communes in urban and rural Siem Reap province, it indicates the reality in other urban and rural settings in the country.
The study revealed a deep-seated gendered division of labour between mothers and fathers. Mothers are largely responsible for domestic work and child care and fathers are expected to be the primary, if not the only, financial providers in households. Mothers are largely the ones who provide for the emotional needs of their children and fathers often take the lead in nurturing their children’s cognitive development.
The ability of parents to provide for their children’s basic needs is highly determined by their economic situation. Poor parents, who struggle to provide for their families’ basic needs, often lack financial and/or time resource necessary to fulfil their children’s cognitive and emotional development needs. In some cases, this challenge forces children to take on parental roles by taking the lead in providing for the basic, cognitive, and emotional support for their family and younger siblings. To do this, some children drop out of school and join the labour market, often taking on hazardous work. This is a phenomenon that is particularly common in rural communes due to limited income opportunities. The government of Cambodia has adopted some policies that support parenting. The paper highlights three areas of support that stood out in the course of the field research: free health care provision through equity cards provision, positive parenting programs, and redress to domestic violence. While these programs have the potential of tremendously reducing the financial and emotional burden of parents, they suffer detrimental challenges. Although qualifying for an equity card is based on a family’s economic status, family income is not assessed. The assessment of the value of family property is flawed because some family obtain property through donation and debt. These properties often don’t have any impact on family income. At times, they can have a negative impact on family income where families use their land as collateral and are unable to pay their loans.
In line with its international obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Cambodian government adopted the 2017-2021 Positive Parenting Strategy which largely focusses on supporting parents to fulfil the emotional development needs of their children. This program is at its initial stages of implementation and faces the challenges of limited financial and personnel. The CCWCs (Commune Committee for Women and Children) are targeted as the key implementation bodies at the commune level yet the committees are already overstretched in their current mandate.
Domestic violence was cited as a major challenge by both parents and children. Domestic violence negatively impacts on both emotional and cognitive development of children. Redress for such abuse is, however, largely limited to ineffective attempts at mediating between the abused and abuser parent. Divorce is discouraged in both social and legal settings in Cambodia. Where parents separate or divorce, fathers often abandon their responsibility to cater for the needs of their children. These two factors likely influence the decision of mothers who stay in abusive relationships, consequently affecting the emotional development of children negatively.
An improvement in how these three support frameworks are implemented and resourced could significantly improve parenting experience and child development. While supporting parents’ ability to cater for emotional needs of their children is an important aspect in supporting parenting, the main challenge facing parents is that of limited financial resources. The research indicated that parents are not only able to cater for the basic needs but also emotional and cognitive needs of their children where their financial burden is lower and/or financial resources are more. Reducing the financial burden associated with parenting and/or increasing income-generating opportunities for parents should hence be at the heart of any program meant to support parenting and child development.