About Cambodia

Cambodia is situated in the southwest of the Indochinese peninsula. It shares borders with Thailand to the west and northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.


Landscape is composed of mainly low plains, with mountains to the southwest and north. Its natural resources are varied: oil and gas, timber, gemstones, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, hydropower potential.


The administrative divisions are provinces are first-level administrative divisions - 25 province including the capital, Phnom Penh.


As measured by the Gini coefficient, overall inequality in Cambodia has decreased from 0.411 in 2007 to 0.313 in 2011. However, regional, gender and age disparities remain, and the distribution of the benefits of economic growth have been inconsistent, unpredictable and unequal. For instance, Cambodia ranked 138 out of 158 countries on the Gender Inequality Index in 2012.



no imagePhoto: Nicolas Axelrod.

Nowadays, Cambodia has the largest generation of youth transitioning into adulthood in its history.


With 65 per cent of the population under the age of 30, Cambodia stands to benefit from a demographic dividend (when the growth rate of the working age population remains higher than that of dependent age groups) until 2038.


Meanwhile, immediate large investment in strengthening employment opportunities for youth is required which is recognised by the National Policy on Cambodia Youth Development (2011).




Cambodia’s population remains predominately rural with about 80 percent living in rural areas and 20 percent in urban settlements. This distribution is likely to change in the near term due to a high rate of migration out of rural areas.


Many young people are also migrating to Phnom Penh and other cities seeking employment in garment manufacturing, construction, tourism, and other generally low-skilled sectors. This movement is rapidly changing the structure of rural society, as elderly people become primary care providers for children whose parents have migrated.


This implies the need for a shift in policies, programming and interventions to address issues affecting children.


Language and Education

no imagePhoto: Isabelle Lesser, UNICEF.

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer. It has the longest alphabet in the world, consisting of 33 consonants, 23 vowels and 12 independent vowels.


Meanwhile, French, Mandarin and English are also used and understood by part of the population. The majority of the elderly people speak French which entered the country during colonial period. For the Khmer-Chinese population, Mandarin is commonly used. As Cambodia is gradually integrating into the global economy, English becomes increasingly popular, particularly in big cities, tourist spots and service sector and among the young generation.


Cambodia has made important progress in improving the access and quality of education, particularly at the primary education level. In the school year 2013/2014, the net enrolment rate and completion rate at primary school level was 98.2% and 88.9% respectively, reflecting increased access to primary education nationwide in the last decade and the positive impact of the expansion of early childhood education programmes. Gross enrolment for lower secondary school stands at 55.3 percent (56.2 percent for girls), including enrolment in private schools. The national youth literacy rate for those aged between 15 and 24 was 93 percent in 2013, demonstrating notable progress over the past 10 year.


In spite of the achievements, more efforts are required to improve participation and performance beyond primary school level. There is a need to continue efforts to improve the quality and relevance of education, ensuring schools impart tangible benefits – in the form of increased knowledge, skills and competencies, including values and attitudes – to students, preparing them for employment, civic responsibility and participation in society. On par, there is a need to strengthen inclusivie education, including in relation to gender, ethnicity and disability, ensuring children from disadvantaged groups are able to access and complete basic education.




Exceptional progress has been made in Cambodia regarding public heath. It could be reflected by the following figures:


Life expectancy 57.5 years in 1999 72 years in 2012
Maternal mortality rate 437 per 100,000 live births 170 per 100,000 live births in 2014
HIV prevalence (aged 15-49 years) 1.7% in 1998-1999 0.7% by 2013
Infant mortality rates 95 per 1,000 live births in 2000 28 per 1,000 live births in 2014
Under-five mortality rates 124 per 1,000 live births in 2000 35 per 1,000 live births in 2014


Access to health services has increased across all wealth quintiles, yet inequities persist between different regions and by income. Remaining children who do not get vaccinated are from the poorest quintile and pregnant women from the poorest quintile are less likely to complete the full package of maternal care from antenatal care, skilled birth attendance to postnatal care, and significant differences exist between provinces.


Financial barriers are a critical reason for low utilization of public health services, along with the low quality of public health services and frequent unavailability of some essential medicines, vaccines and supplies, which continue to depend to a significant extent on Official Development Assistance (ODA) for their financing. These challenges call for effective coordination and demographic targeting of interventions to improve access among rural, poor and vulnerable groups.


Cambodia has made remarkable progress in immunization campaigns against a number of communicable diseases, but the burden of communicable diseases remains high. Drug resistant strains of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, and new infectious diseases such as Avian Influenza present challenges. The country is also beginning to experience the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCD), with widespread NCD risk factors in the Cambodian population.


A wide range of environmental health challenges caused by unsafe use of chemicals in the workplace, including agriculture, and fraudulent medicines, poor hygiene, indoor and outdoor air pollution, contaminated water and soil, and inadequate waste management present risks to the population. The problems associated with these and other public health problems – ranging from food and nutrition to violence against women and children – are multisectoral and require coordination of actions and investments.