Population: 14.08 million (6.8 male, 7.2 female)
Area: 181,035 sq. km
Average family: 5.2
Number of villages: 13,408
Ethnic groups: Khmer 96%; Vietnamese, Cham, Chinese, hill tribes 4%
Religion: Theravada Buddhism 90%, Muslims 0.5 million people, Christians 0.3 million people
Official language: Khmer
A dark side of the “globalization” of trade is access to easy money: casinos, prostitution and drugs are sadly frequent images in South East Asia and are starting to enter Cambodia.
The Kingdom of Cambodia, for the first time in nearly thirty years, has control over its territory and is enjoying a relatively stable political situation. But Cambodia finds itself at a geographical and historical crossroads. It lies between developing countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, and other less developed nations like Laos. It is also emerging from a violent past, isolated after thirty years of war and a failed social experiment, which left the surviving population in a state of shock. Cambodia is emerging towards a future that pushes it to follow the rest of South East Asia and the globalized pace of growth, with its lights and shadows.
The Battambang diocese is strategically located in the midst of these immense social needs and challenges.
Since 1969, Cambodia has suffered a number of conflicts which have severely affected its infrastructure and its natural resources. It was only in December 1998 that the Khmer Rouge factions laid down their weapons. While Cambodia has begun to rebuild itself, the task may take generations. Peace remains a challenge, but at least the systematic violence of armed factions has been relegated to history.
Today it is estimated that 36% of Cambodia’s people live below the poverty line. The poverty rate is particularly high in rural areas and rural households, 84%, especially those for whom agriculture is the primary source of income.
The principal factor leading to poverty is lack of access to land because the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the land titles. In areas that are mined, land is not worth anything and it is occupied by people who are very poor. Due to the landmines and of the years without vaccinations against polio, there is a high number of people with disabilities in the region.
When big investors come, no one protects the property and interests of small farmers. Landless families are effectively forced to migrate to other areas, whilst young people also drift into the city in search of education or work. As a result, many end up in garment factories, where they may earn $40 a week and girls may be drawn into the city's booming sex trade.
Tourism is a growing area that opens up Cambodia to the world. It is a source of income for the Cambodians and transmits the cultural richness of the country. But tourism also brings about risks: human trafficking, prostitution, lack of transparency or corruption and HIV-AIDS infections.
Children below 18 years of age represent about 50% of the total population. 0nly 33% of 12 year-olds complete the sixth grade. Many students do not have enough supplies for school; there is an abundance of unqualified teachers, and the teachers are paid very poorly in most places.