Cambodia’s civil war had a massive effect on the country’s infrastructure and its citizens. Even thirty years after the conflict, many Cambodians are deeply affected both psychologically and economically. Poverty and illiteracy are widespread and lack of education forms a barrier to economic advancement.
For many families, education is a big expense. Despite free education, there is the expense of uniforms, books and transport. School dropout rates are high, with some children forced to work to support the family. Others end up on the streets or in conflict with the law.
With no juvenile justice system in Cambodia, young offenders – aged between 14 and 18 - are imprisoned with adults. With little access to their specific rights as children, such as to education and play, these children face real challenges and stigma when it is time to return to their communities on release.
TLC was founded in 2007 to address poverty in Cambodia, by encouraging local people from Siem Reap to develop their own solutions to the problems in their community.
Today, TLC works out of the three provinces of Siem Reap, Beanteay Meanchey and Oddar Meanchey. The This Life Beyond Bars (TLBB) programme provides young offenders with vocational training and life skills to prepare them for life after prison. It also provides support to families whose incomes have dropped following the imprisonment of a parent or caregiver.
The Lower Secondary School Development Programme (LSSDP) seeks to address the high dropout rate, delivering a 3-year programme at selected schools to help build capacity and effectiveness.The Life Beyond Bars programme has successfully put the issue of the juvenile system on the agenda in Cambodia and together with the Secondary School programme; TLC has reached 2,939 beneficiaries in 2014, including 691 children.
To date, over 99 per cent of TLBB programme graduates have not re-offended, more than within the six months after their release from prison. Around 76 per cent of graduates have found employment or gone back to studying upon their release.
The LSSDP is now in the second programme year in two schools in Chi Kraeng District of Siem Reap Province.
Photos: Kimlong Meng/Stars Foundation