Inclusive social protection

Named after the late king-father, Sihanouk Province is one of Cambodia’s top tourist destinations, thanks to its beautiful beaches and tropical islands. It is also the only deep-water port and logistics hub in the Kingdom hosting multi-million dollar transportation and logistics facilities, including textile and garment factories, which creates many employment opportunities for population. And just 20 km from the city center, there are special economic zones that are home to many textile and garment factories. The vast majority of garment factory workers here are women who migrated from neighboring provinces like Takeo, Kampot, Prey Veng and other rural areas.

Kourn Nath, a mother of four, has worked in one of these factories for more than five years. Like her colleagues, she dropped out in third grade. It takes him two hours a day to get to and from work, which costs him $20 a month using the bus service. When asked how she is coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, she pauses for a few seconds before answering. Nath said his life had hit rock bottom. She earned no income other than her minimum wage. Nath is a courageous mother raising four children on her own. She has a big dream, a dream to send her children to college for an education and job opportunity. But this dream is too fragile. Her eldest son just dropped out of eighth grade three months ago, so he could look after his younger brothers and help out with household chores. The youngest son travels about 10 km to school every day because he cannot afford a bicycle.

With only access to a National Social Security Fund (NSSF) card which she once used when she gave birth to her fourth son, her family is vulnerable to extreme poverty if they do not earn no income or is unemployed. I understood her challenges and the difficulties of being a working mother, the responsibilities and burdens, especially with the least support Nath could have. I am a full-time working mother of three myself and can say that raising children is a social and financial challenge. Imagine that you are Nath or imagine a society where mothers have to go back to work after a few days of giving birth; children must drop out of school and work to support their parents; people with disabilities beg on the streets because there are no job opportunities for them; and the elderly have to work until their last breath.

Well, that was exactly Cambodia not so long ago. And many people in need, just like Nath and his children, still struggle with these challenges every day. This is why a support system, especially inclusive social protections, is critical to achieving gender equity and poverty reduction efforts in Cambodia. Social protection is not a new concept. It has long been incorporated into the policies of many countries to protect people from the unexpected in life. It is set out in article 22 as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Social protection is also a key target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2023. And Articles 36 and 75 of the Cambodian Constitution also give every Khmer citizen the right to social security.

Joel C. Hicks