On a recent mission to Cambodia, I took a few hours on my last day to visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, located just outside Phnom Penh. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime, under the leadership of Pol Pot, killed an estimated one-quarter of the Cambodian population as part of a radical social engineering process aimed at creating a utopian agrarian society free of any modern influence.
The regime arrested and executed anyone suspected of connections with the former government or foreign governments, professors and intellectuals, and ethnic and religious minorities. Anyone living in a city was either executed outright forcibly removed to the countryside, where many died from starvation and disease. Estimates of the toll range from 1.7 million to 3 million people killed during these horrific four years.
Wandering around the site, anchored by a massive Buddhist memorial filled with the skulls of the victims and dotted by open pits where human bones still surface, I couldn’t help but reflect on the massive challenges of rebuilding from such devastation. The country was forced back many decades, if not centuries, its government dismantled, and nearly all educated people and anyone with experience in government killed. Yet rebuild they have – while Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in East Asia, record economic growth and development in the past decade has resulted in remarkable declines in poverty, from 47% of the population in 2003 to approximately 20% today.
Which leads to the reason I found myself in Cambodia in the first place: the new wealth doesn’t mean that old problems have gone away. While overall poverty rates have fallen, there are a lot of children who are being left behind.
|Huang says that she has seen the benefits for her son of a UNICEF communications campaign to promote complementary feeding in order to improve child nutrition. © UNICEF/Cambodia|
|UNICEF Social Policy Specialist Kimsong Chea meets with Ratanak HAV, Deputy Director, Budget Department, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Cambodia. © Heather B. Hamilton|
- UNICEF engagement and training with the national child rights body and the Ministry of Economy and Finance led to the creation of a strategy for developing national capacity for budgets that are fair and prioritize children, and to the establishment of a new working group of finance and social sector ministries which will implement a range of capacity building, research and monitoring activities.
- During 2012, UNICEF launched several research projects in cooperation with the government which have provided strong recommendations for investments in children that are being taken up by the government.
- UNICEF is providing technical and capacity-building support to a pilot project by the Ministry of Economy and Finance to train 13 social sector ministries on program-based budgeting, which focuses on building budgets around planned results (such as reducing child mortality) rather than line-items (such as salaries), increasing the focus on outcomes and equity.
- Early this year, UNICEF concluded a strategic partnership agreement and work plans for research and capacity-building with an influential, internal government “think-tank” led by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Economy and Finance that develops policy recommendations for translating strategic direction into concrete policy plans – research and capacity-building that will turn commitments to actions for children.
- UNICEF advocacy helped the national child rights body, which previously received minimal budget allocations, to get significantly increased government resources this year for monitoring line ministries on the implementation of recommendations of the United Nations Committee on Rights of Child.