COVID-19 in Cambodia

  • While the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is still relatively low in Cambodia, the impact of Covid-19 on children and families is already quite pronounced. It’s clear that COVID-19 could undo years of progress made in children’s health, education, and family livelihoods across the country.
  • Economic recession and the social disruption accompanying government restrictions are having devastating socio-economic impacts – impacting parental employment and entrepreneurialism and taking millions of children out of school, missing out on valuable holistic development and well-being support.
  • As the pandemic continues to spread, it is already remarkably evident that the most marginalized and vulnerable children will pay the highest price. Our opportunity to act is now in order to mitigate the potential devastation of COVID-19.

Cambodia reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 27 January 2020 until 18 March 2021 there are 1,541 confirmed cases and 1 confirmed death. The most obvious risks and threats are to the health system and health status of Cambodia’s population – not just linked to COVID-19, but other secondary health impacts. The pressure on national health systems to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak could expose children to the disruption of essential healthcare services that are vital to child survival.

But the impact of this crisis goes far beyond health. The indefinite closure of all schools has left 3.1 million Cambodian children without education. This has already had a significant and immediate effect on learning, while the long-term impacts could threaten the future of an entire generation. We know from experience, notably the Ebola crisis, that epidemics that lead to school closures create huge barriers for children’s return to school, especially for the most marginalized. Girls are especially likely to permanently drop-out.

The school closures also extend beyond learning objectives, with many children facing an increased risk of rights violations.

Children are also exposed to heightened child-protection issues in this crisis, with many at risk of losing their caregivers to the virus or being forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms as pressures mount on the poorest households. With schools closed and physical distance, children and young people are more than ever are relying on digital platforms for home, schooling, and socializing, increasing their risk of online sexual abuse and exploitation. Domestic violence is likely to increase, as well as child labour and child marriage, as seen in other public health emergencies.

This negative economic impact will be felt most profoundly by poor and near-poor families in Cambodia, threatening their livelihoods and their overall well-being, and underscoring the need for strong social protection interventions to support them through this shock.

There are plenty of uncertainties during the Covid-19 global pandemic. But the one certainty we have is that the poorest and most vulnerable children and families will bear the brunt of the COVID-19 fallout. Failure to contain the spread of the pandemic and address the secondary impacts will tear apart the lives of the most vulnerable children and their families across Cambodia.