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One-third of Cambodia's seniors caring for grandchildren, study finds

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A grandmother looks after her grandchildren in Kratie province in May 2022. Hong Menea

One-third of Cambodia's seniors caring for grandchildren, study finds

A research study by World Vision Cambodia found that older people in the Kingdom face significant challenges related to health, stress and financial stability – some of it associated with their role caring for grandchildren in place of the child's parents.

One in three of the Kingdom's seniors are taking care of their grandchildren or other relatives' children in place of their parents – typically because of the employment situation – and these responsibilities place significant additional burdens on the elderly, according to the research study report published on September 27.

Touch Channy – head of the General Department of Social Services at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation – said seniors already face many challenges and when they reach old age, they typically do have problems with their health, as is the case in any country.

"The government is looking for solutions to address the challenges. We have dealt with it by providing seniors with increased social assistance and building up our social protection system,” he said.

"Now we are thinking that we should give them something more in addition to that from the government and we are thinking about doing a family assistance package, but we have not implemented it yet."

He said his ministry is working on solving these problems, noting that one initiative which has proven popular is the establishment of senior citizen associations that now exist in many commune to help the elderly with all manner of difficulties and challenges, including those who are seriously ill or dying.

Ou Vanda, director of the Aging Cambodians Network, said the elderly are very vulnerable in terms of their finances and the onset of health problems. Now, he said, they are taking on burdens from their children by raising grandchildren, making it even more difficult for them.

“I would like to ask the government to provide money to senior citizens to support them when they grow old and to provide free medical treatment for them along with the National Social Security Fund [NSSF] cards.

"On the other hand, while senior citizen associations were created in each commune, no funds were provided to support them. So I would like to request that the government support these associations by funding them because they could do a lot of good by preventing the elderly from being lonely and giving them a means to be able to help each other,” he said.

She added that if seniors had an equity card, it would help them a lot, even if they had the burden of caring for children at their age.

Tum Vira, executive director of HelpAge Cambodia, said it was inappropriate for the elderly to be forced to take care of their grandchildren full-time in place of the parents, though it has practically become a tradition in the Kingdom in recent years.

"The solution for this requires the participation of all stakeholders. The state must look at creating more local jobs near people's homes [to reduce migration abroad for work]. The state also needs to strengthen social assistance and social protection programmes to help them and their families earn more income,” he said.

According to Vira, in 2019 the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found that in families with parents who migrated abroad for work, more than 99 per cent of the time it was the grandparents who were taking care of their grandchildren back home. It said there were an estimated 1.2 million Cambodian migrant workers at present with the majority of them employed in Thailand.

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