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Sida's work in Cambodia

Cambodia is a country undergoing rapid change. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in large increases in poverty and unemployment. Democratic development is backsliding. Sida contributes to a more open and sustainable society by strengthening civil society, human rights, democracy and the equal application of the rule of law to all citizens.

Sida’s support to Cambodia 2020

Important thematic areas in Cambodia

Progress has been made

97 %

of all children are enrolled in primary school. A slightly higher percentage of girls complete primary education.

Poverty has decreased

Poverty decreased by over 50% in Cambodia during the eight-year period 2004–2012, after which it remained stable at approximately 17% until 2020. The country has enjoyed year over year economic growth of 7% for the past decade and official unemployment is low.

Decreasing infant and maternal mortality

Although infant and maternal mortality have decreased, public health services remain deeply flawed.

Challenges remain

Human rights are being violated

The political climate has deteriorated significantly since autumn 2017. Human rights are violated, including curbs on press freedom and the right to demonstrate. as well as by the judiciary.

The social safety net is inadequate

Cambodia faces significant challenges in areas such as child nutrition, the political representation of women and environmental protection. The inadequate social safety net leaves citizens vulnerable.

Corruption is on the increase

Although the country’s economic growth has to some extent benefited the poor, the gap between rich and poor is still widening. Corruption is a serious problem at all levels of society.

Development cooperation in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in 1975 under the leadership of Pol Pot. In only a few years, it is estimated that some two million Cambodians were murdered or died of starvation and disease. The Khmer Rouge were toppled in 1979 by the invading Vietnamese army. A low intensity civil war continued until 1999,

when greater political stability coincided with a strong economic upturn. By 2020, GDP had increased by 700% since the turn of the millennium. Poverty and unemployment have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parliamentary elections in July 2018 resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which won all 125 seats in the National Assembly, dealing a serious blow to the country’s democratic development.

Given the political situation, the Swedish Government has decided that development cooperation with Cambodia will focus on strengthening human rights, democracy and the equal application of the rule of law to all citizens. We support projects intended to make it easier for citizens to demand accountability from those in power. Another area of support is enabling vulnerable rural populations to manage natural resources together.

All programmes supported by Sida in Cambodia are implemented in collaboration with civil society organisations and other non-state actors.

Democracy, human rights and freedom of speech

Democratic development is backsliding. Human rights are being violated and restrictions imposed on press freedom and the right to demonstrate. The country’s judiciary is not fit for purpose and citizens are not always treated equally before the law.

Strengthening civil society

A strong civil society bolstered by many international organisations working on the ground has played a key role in Cambodia’s development. International organisations support and monitor human rights. Diakonia is working with some dozen civil society organisations to increase gender equality and respect for human rights and to provide greater opportunity for citizens to hold those in power to account.

Diakonia website

Research cooperation raises the level of education

One severe problem in Cambodia is the low level of citizens with a higher education. Sida supports the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), the country’s largest higher education institution, and its collaborations with 12 Swedish higher education institutions. Among other things, this support goes to second and third-cycle programmes and to building facilities such as laboratories, libraries and IT infrastructure. Through the project, the RUPP will be able to offer high-quality third-cycle programmes and research opportunities.

About the International Science Programme (ISP) on the Uppsala University website

Opening up opportunities for young researchers

The majority of teachers and students at Cambodian universities say that they lack the necessary tools to conduct research. The Young Researchers Program (YRP) is an intensive one-year programme that provides between 10 and 20 students and teachers each year with the opportunity to conduct research. The programme’s success can be measured by the frequency with which its young researchers are contacted for interviews and the wide dissemination of their articles.

Young Researchers Program (YRP)

Scholarships to reduce the gender imbalance in law programmes

In Cambodia, more men than women study law. Since 2013, socially and economically disadvantaged female students can apply for a scholarship from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law to enrol in the Bachelor of Law program at Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Law and Economics. Greater numbers of female law graduates will increase the ability of the judiciary to deal with issues such as gender-based violence, as vulnerable women often prefer to be represented by a female lawyer.

Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law website

Resolving labour disputes

In Cambodia, 85% of employment opportunities are in the informal sector, meaning that jobs are often poorly paid, insecure and without regulated working conditions or collective agreements. The project “Strengthening Industrial Relations and Labour Market Conditions in Cambodia” funds arbitration to resolve labour disputes, primarily in the textile and clothing industry. Disputes range from meal allowances and the right to annual leave to wage rises and redundancy pay. Since 2003, the project has dealt with over 2,500 disputes directly affecting over a million employees and employers in Cambodia. In excess of two thirds of the cases have been successfully arbitrated and 85% of the affected employees were women.

TV show guides young Cambodians towards their dream job

Official unemployment in Cambodia is high and young people may find it difficult to find a job. With Sida’s support, BBC Action Media delivers an innovative multimedia project to help young Cambodians improve their job prospects. The project, Klahan9 (Klahan means brave), combines a popular youth-led TV show, outreach events and interactive, popular social media content to help young people understand their training and career options. The programme is implemented in close cooperation with Cambodia’s National Employment Agency.

The Klahan9 project on the BBC Action Media website

Development cooperation on education and the environment and climate change is being phased out

The areas of cooperation that are being phased out during 2020/21 are primary education and environment and climate change. Ongoing programmes to promote human rights, democracy and the equal application of the rule of law to all citizens will be phased out and concluded during 2020/21, with one exception:

Sweden’s agreement with the EU programme Partnership for Accountability and Transparency in Cambodia 2020-2022 (PAT II). This programme is focused on reinforcing the work of two Cambodian government agencies with statistics and the governance of public finances. The intention is to improve the governance of the public purse, to increase insight and to hold those in positions of responsibility to account. The programme is being implemented in collaboration with two independent organisations.

Updated: 2 July 2021