The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated on the Indochina peninsular in Southeast Asia. As is typical of its spatial context, the climate of Cambodia is characterised by a distinct monsoonal season and dry season. Low-lying central plains dominate most of the landscape with hills and low mountains scattered throughout and the Mekong River featuring as a major artery from North to South. Thailand lies to the West, Laos to the North, Vietnam to the East and the Gulf of Thailand to the Southwest.
Cambodian culture is a melting pot of the former Angkor Empire, the Khmer monarchy, Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, French colonialism, modern Western influences and various hill tribe ethnicities. Their mixed history is illuminated in traditional art forms of music, dance and festivals.
90% of locals consider their ancestry to have stemmed from the ancient Angkor civilisation which dominated much of the region. Its rich culture dates back 2 000 years and comprises the basis of the subsequent Khmer kingdom. Nowadays, the Vietnamese and Chinese also have a substantial presence. The dominant language is Khmer and 97% subscribe to Buddhism.
The age structure of Cambodia is severely skewed toward the young as the Khmer Rouge eradicated much of the elder generation, specifically targeting the educated. When peace was eventually restored a significant population explosion occurred which has led to the bottom-heavy population pyramid of today. More than 50% of Cambodians are younger than 24 years old.
Cambodia's recent history is tainted with crimes against humanity of the worst kind. Having been crippled by their involvement in the American/ Vietnamese War, the Khmer Rouge regime saw the genocide of an estimated one quarter of the population, before foreign occupation ensued for the subsequent decade. It is with this backdrop that the nation's frail systems of governance must be understood, as significant fault lines remain unaddressed today. Although officially recognised as a multiparty democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the Human Rights Watch is closely monitoring corruption and authoritarianism within the government body.
Strong growth in recent years has been driven by textiles, construction, agriculture and tourism which has attracted foreign investment and stimulated international trade. Much potential lies in the extractive industry as large oil deposits have been discovered under Cambodia's maritime territory.
Nevertheless, development remains overwhelming as more than 4 million Cambodians live on less than .25 per day. One of the greatest concerns is the pressure for the private sector to absorb the oncoming demographic youth bulge, particularly as many children cannot access education and remain unskilled.
- Education: Immense pressure on the education system is a knock-on effect of the disproportionate age-structure. Not only does Cambodia lack necessary infrastructure to operate schools, but past decades of conflict have also left an enormous deficit of teachers and educated leaders, dragging the country further behind developmental targets. Consequently, many uneducated children and youth turn to illegal activities in the overly active underworld as a means of living.
- Sexual assault/ trafficking: Commercial sex is booming with many young girls entering the trade out of force or destitution. Trends show that children who were sexually abused in childhood are more likely to engage in prostitution as adults. In a culture which values pre-marital purity, victims are often stigmatised and downcast because of a belief that they are 'tainted'. Healthcare and emotional support is scarce and rising levels of violence against women exceed the capacity of the justice system.
- Deforestation: Deforestation is occurring in Cambodia at one of the fastest rates in the world. In 40 years forest cover fell from over 70% to just 3.1% (UNDP, 2013) . The future sustainability of reserves is under great threat by illegal loggers, increasing global demand for wood and poor environmental planning.
- Landmines: Cambodia is laden with countless unexploded landmines which are a legacy of the war-tainted past. Survivors of the detonations almost certainly require amputation and often then turn to begging as a means of survival. Children are often the unsuspecting victims as they play in fields or search for scraps to sell at the market.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pp.html
The Halo Trust: http://www.halotrust.org/where-we-work/cambodia