Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

The Government of the Lao PDR has announced a renewed focus on addressing violence against children, after a national survey showed more than a third of children in the developing country faced some form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Laos Deputy Prime Minister Sonxay Siphanhdone (pictured above with youth who participated in the country’s first children’s forum) last Thursday urged the Lao Government, the public, and the private sector to work together to implement stronger child protection and participation systems.

The government’s renewed focus also comes after an inaugural National Children’s Forum was held in Vientiane in May, which revealed children in Laos lacked opportunities and the resources including online safety and sexual and reproductive health information, to help them identify and reduce the risks of violence.

The three-day forum, facilitated by ChildFund Laos and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, provided a space for 90 children across three provinces to voice their needs and share the key challenges they faced on a variety of issues, including violence and abuse.

The Lao Government’s renewed commitment to addressing violence against children has been applauded by the Australian ambassador to Laos, Jean-Bernard Carrasco.

“I am very proud the Australian Government has been able to support the Lao Government in this process, by contributing funding to the national survey,” he said this week in Vientiane, at an event celebrating International Children’s Day.

“I am pleased to acknowledge that both Australia and Laos have recognised children have the same human rights as adults, but that they also require special protection due to their vulnerability.

“Nowhere is protecting the rights of children more important than in Laos, where it is estimated that over 40 per cent of the population are under the age of 18.”

Sitting under the shade of a tamarind tree, 16-year-old Pany strikes a chord on her khim, bringing alive the unmistakable melodies that have been part of Cambodian culture for centuries. She smiles as she sings, backed up by fellow members of a traditional Khmer music group, which ChildFund supports.

“I was a completely different person four years ago when I first joined the Phleng Khmer music group,” says Pany. “Phleng Khmer has helped me discover my potential and refine it.”

Phleng Khmer is part of the Children’s Voice initiative, which ChildFund is implementing to introduce vocational and cultural activities to village schools in Svay Rieng.

Students have been quick to get on board the program and embrace their cultural heritage, says Saroun, a music teacher who strongly believes in the importance of creativity in a child’s development.

Many children in rural villages are unable to access vocational activities such as music because their schools do not have enough facilities or equipment.

According to Saroun, it is important that students learn these skills so they can develop their creativity, a love of learning and reach their full potential.

“Music is not just a form of entertainment, it is an art that builds up people’s spirits and personalities, especially for children,” says Saroun.