The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan

A Survey of Programs on the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers

2. Country Profiles
2.4. Cambodia

2.4.1. Current State of Armed Conflict

In Cambodia, there is no provision in the 1993 Constitution on military recruitment, but article 48 of the Cambodian states that "the State shall protect the rights of the child as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular, the right to life, education, protection during wartime."(2).18 In June 2000, Cambodia was the first Asian state to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In spite of this legislation prohibiting any recruitment of persons below the age 18 years, but both NGOs and UN bodies reported many cases of underage recruitment by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) during Cambodia's civil war. With the collapse of the Khmer Rouge and the end of fighting in Cambodia, this situation has changed drastically, but the demobilization, rehabilitation and re-integration of former child soldiers remains a major challenge.

It was not until peace was finally achieved, however, that the Government developed a plan for demobilization known as the Cambodian Veterans Assistance Program (CVAP), to be overseen by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation with international assistance. The Cambodian authorities have acknowledged the presence of underage soldiers in the armed forces, including in their initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. In early 1998, the Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia expressed grave concerned of the alleged forced conscription of boys as young as 8 or 10 forced to join the army during raids on villages in Oddar Meanchey province by Government forces who demanded payment from parents in return for an exemption from the unofficial draft.19 In a workshop organized by the Cambodian League for the Defense of Human Rights (CLDHRO) in partnership with World Vision in August 1999, 15 soldiers, aged between 16 and 20, who attended all claimed to be volunteers. Most had joined for economic reasons or because they were orphans, although one claimed he had signed up because of his hatred of the Khmer Rouge which had burned down houses and terrorized the population in his village.

A UNICEF study based on 199 interviews of child soldiers in three provinces of Northwest Cambodia (Battambang, Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey) found that the main activities of children were: cook/cleaner 35%, guard 21% and porter 6%, but also 16% combatants, 16% body guards and 5% spy. 57% claimed that they had exposure to frontline situations. An earlier study by LICADHO and Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) also found that children had been working as spies for the armed forces and laying mines in Kompong Speu province, where there was ongoing conflict between Khmer Rouge and RCAF troops. Child spies appear to have been used by both sides because of their ability to pass unnoticed by the "enemy".20

The table below represents the main activities under taken by many children during their stay with any of the factions.

Table 14. Functions undertaken by child soldiers during the war in Cambodia21.

Activities Percentage allocated for this the activity # Of Child soldier
Cook/cleaner 21% N/A
Porter 6% N/A
Combat 16% N/A
Bodyguard 16% N/A
Spy 5% N/A
Exposure to frontline 57% N/A
Others 1% N/A

An assessment by UNICEF of programs, projects and what organizations are planned for former soldiers in Cambodia is still ongoing and therefore data will be available at a later date.

2.4.2. Domestic Framework for Protection of Children

Because there is no comprehensive report with regarding programs dedicated to former child soldiers in Cambodia, framework for child protection could not be obtained at this point. It would therefore take longer period of time to finalize and compile.

2.4.3. The Dimensions of the Problem of Child Soldiers

Information regarding dimensions of the child soldiers could not be properly accessed due lack of time. Request was made to have reliable and accurate information for this sector but there was difficulty of reaching the right people or agency to provide this information.

2.4.4. Measures taken to address problem

a) Government, b) UN agencies, c) External Donors and d) NGOs

Lack of reliable and systematic information prevented proper analysis of this part.

2.4.5. Impact of measures

Link to the whole analysis, has been the main problem of accessing information on Cambodia. There is a serious difficulty in gathering information regarding the former child soldiers. This is despite the fact that many formal and informal requests have been made for accessing sources and data material with regard to programs dedicated to former child soldiers.

18 Blaustein, A.P. & Flanz, G.H., the Constitutions of the countries of the world, Oceana Publications, New York.

19 Initial Report of Cambodia to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/11/Add. 16, 24 June 1998.

20 Information provided by UNICEF to the Asia Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as soldiers, Kathmandu, May 2000.

21 UNICEF study based on 199 child soldiers interviewed.

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