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 Kingdom’s only deep seaport and logistic hub hosting multi-million dollars transport and logistics facilities, including textiles and garment factories, which creates a lot of job opportunities for the people. And just 20km away from the city centre, there are special economic zones which host many textiles and garment factories. The vast majority of garment factory employees here are women who migrated from nearby provinces like Takeo, Kampot, Prey Veng, and other rural areas.
Kourn Nath, a mother of four, works in one of those factories for more than five years. Just like her fellow colleagues, she dropped out in third grade. It takes her two hours every day commuting to and back from work which costs her $20 dollars per month using bus service. When asked how she is coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, she pauses for seconds before responding. Nath said her life hit the rock bottom. She made no income other than just her minimum wage. Nath is a courageous mother who raises four kids alone. She has a big dream, a dream of sending her kids to college for an education and job opportunity. But that dream is too fragile. Her eldest son just dropped out in eighth grade three months ago, so he can look after his younger brothers and support the household works. The youngest son walks about 10km to school every day because he could not afford a bike.
With only access to a National Social Security Fund (NSSF) card which she used once when she gave birth to her fourth son, her family is vulnerable to extreme poverty should she no longer make any income or be unemployed. I understood her challenges and hardship of being a working mom, the responsibilities and the loads, especially with the least support Nath could have. I myself am a full-time working mom of three children, and I can tell that raising kids is socially and financially challenging. Imagine you were Nath or imagine a society where mothers need to get back to work after a few days of delivering their newborns; children have to drop out of school and work to support their parents; persons with disabilities beg on the streets because there are no job opportunities for them; and older persons need to work to their very last breath.
Well, it was exactly Cambodia not long ago. And many in need, just like Nath and her children, are still struggling with these hardships every day. It is why a system of support, inclusive social protections in particular, is vital to achieving gender equity and poverty reduction efforts in Cambodia. Social protection is not a new concept. It has long been mainstreaming into policy settings in many countries to protect people from unforeseen life contingencies. 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 UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2023. And Article 36 and 75 of Cambodia’s Constitution also entitles every Khmer citizen to social security.