Daycare has been neglected in Cambodia since the 1990s, although it was a priority during the socialist regime in the 1980s.

According to a report prepared by Eng Netra and Sin Sovann in 2007, there were about 102 public-funded childcare centres during the 1980s, but they were closed down in the early 1990s.

Public daycare has been ignored in any government’s programme or plan since then.

I argue that it is time for the state and civil society organisations (CSOs) to prioritise the daycare issue in Cambodia.

The primary reason lies in the Constitutional and legal provisions on childcare in Cambodia. Article 73 of the Constitution states: “The state cares for children and mothers. The state organises nurseries and attends to women without support who have many children under their care.”

The spirit of Article 73 in the Constitution was later translated into Article 16 in the 2007 Education Law.

Although the Constitution and the Education Law recognise the state’s role in childcare provision, it fails to do so in practice.

Minimal amount

Instead, the state transfers this provisional childcare role to enterprises operating under the Labour Law.

The 1997 Labour Law regulates any enterprise and agricultural one employing at least 100 workers to provide daycare services to their employees.

Article 186 requires enterprises employing a minimum of 100 hundred women or girls to “set up, within their establishments or nearby, a nursing room and a nursery”.

If the enterprise is not able to set up this nursery, the employer shall pay for daycare fees charged by other daycare service providers to which their employees send their children.

Nevertheless, there are only about two to three standardised daycare centres within garment factories in Cambodia, according to my interviews with various respondents in early 2018 as part of my PhD research.

This figure suggests that the vast majority of female factory workers do not get access to daycare entitlements for their small children.

The common practice is that employers provide monthly milk allowances to female workers with $5-7 per child for a while.

This amount is very minimal and is not sufficient for daycare fees.

The secondary reason for the prioritisation of daycare is to respond to the Global Development Agenda in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

The SDGs compose 17 goals and 169 targets with a 15-year timeframe ending in 2030.

The SDGs include the issue of childcare in two primary targets under Early Childhood Care and Education (SDG 4), and Gender Equality and Women’s Rights (SDG 5).

UN member states, including Cambodia, are supposed to translate the global SDGs into practice in their country contexts.

In Cambodia, important policy frameworks relevant to childcare in the global SDGs are the National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development in 2010, Goals 4 and 5 embedded in the Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals Framework, and Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goal 4-Education 2030 Roadmap in 2019.

Through these policies, the state tends to prioritise one-year preschool education but relinquish the state’s role in care for children under five years old by assigning the family with this childcare.

Therefore, the primary limitations of the above policies lie in their negligence of public-funded daycare and legal enforcement on enterprise-based daycare, which are essential for low-income families, especially poor women-headed families.

This problem is compounded by the fact that daycare issues have not been the core agenda for advocacy of CSOs in Cambodia, except for the agenda of International Women’s Day in 2019.

I urge the state to initiate public daycare and enforce childcare provisions in the labour law, and at the same time, CSOs need to prioritise childcare as their core advocacy agenda.

To make this advocacy more effective, a coalition between advocacy CSOs, worker’s unions, and CSOs working on early childhood education is required.

Sambath My is the founder of Gender and Policy Forum and a PhD Candidate in Development Studies at the University of Melbourne.