Older people in Cambodia have lived difficult lives, including civil war, political violence, dislocation, and poverty resulting from the Khmer Rouge period. Many of those killed during that violent period (the majority of them male) were the children or spouses of today’s older generation.
In addition, HelpAge publishes Global AgeWatch Index that ranks countries by how well their ageing populations are faring. You can find data set of 96 countries, including country report card for Cambodia.
Situation of older people
The number of older people is growing: When the last census was held in 2008, 6.34% or 849,911 Cambodians were aged over 60. This is expected to nearly triple in the coming decades.[i] The fastest growing group of older people is the ‘oldest old’, or those aged over 80.[ii] Cambodians born in 2008 can expect to live to their early 60s, while babies born in 2030 are likely to live to their late 60s, or even early 70s.[iii]
Women substantially outnumber men: In most countries, women outnumber men at older ages because of longer life spans, and that imbalance is exaggerated in Cambodia because of its past. In Cambodia there are 69 older men for every 100 older women in the age 60+ group, and the ratio is 61:100 among the older-old population (80+).[iv] Marital status affects many aspects of well-being in old age, and women are again at a disadvantage. Close to half of older women (46%) are widowed in Cambodia, compared to just 11% of older men.[v]
Older people struggle with poverty: In terms of both their needs and their contributions, older people are a largely forgotten group in development and democracy debates, presumed to be under the care of their families. This exclusion extends to discussions on gender and disability. Gender initiatives are usually limited to girls and women of reproductive age. Similarly, disability discussions tend to focus on younger groups, despite the rise in disability rates with age. The contributions of older people to wider community development are often invisible – not only through their local leadership and economic production but also, for instance, in freeing other family members to pursue employment by looking after children of migrant parents or caring for those with HIV/AIDS.[vi]
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world[vii] and is rated 138 out of 187 countries on the human development index.[viii] Over time, there will be fewer and fewer working age people to provide economic support during old age.[ix]
The plain region is ageing faster than other areas: Rural and urban populations of older people mirror that of the general population. However more developed provinces in the plain region, such as Kampong Cham, Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, and Siem Reap are ageing faster than other provinces. This is due to lower fertility and mortality rates compared to coastal, plateau and mountainous areas.[x]
Older people need care and support: Cambodia’s older people face multiple sources of vulnerability. These include low incomes, health functional disabilities, health problems, social isolation, and limited opportunities to participate. In a survey, two-thirds of older Cambodians rated their own health as poor or very poor and they have limited access to appropriate and regular health care.[xi]
For older people who must continue to work, poor health (including problems with eyesight, hearing and joint pains) directly affects their livelihoods. Social isolation also affects psychological and physical health. The majority of older women lack the education and literacy skills to participate fully in society; among women aged 80 and older, for example, the literacy rate is only 9%.[xii] As a result, Cambodian older women generally did not have proper administrative registrations for identity, for land or other assets and tend to be dependent on their children, particularly their sons, to provide support in old age.[xiii]
Migration by younger people often improves the household’s finances[xiv]; however, it may also leave older people with less social interaction, a greater share of household work, and fewer options for personal care in times of illness. Most villages have few avenues for mutual support, democratic participation, or community leadership by older people.
Below are the key statistics on Cambodia’s population of older people:
|Older people (total)||951,000||3,612,000|
|Older people as percentage of total population||6.6%||19%|
|Life expectancy (males)||62|
|Life expectancy (females)||65|
Government policies related to older people
Cambodia is a signatory to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA).
National Policy for the Elderly: The National Policy for the Elderly was launched in 2003 as a direct response to the Madrid Plan. It highlights the responsibility of the Cambodian Government to support older people via social, health and economic sectors. The policy also highlights the need for research on the social, health and economic issues that affect older people.[xv] The National Policy for Elderly makes provision for the technical training of health staff on the care of older people. It also makes provisions to develop comprehensive mental health-care services for older people.[xvi]
Health and care: The Ministry of Health coordinates health care services for older people and has delivered a National Policy on the Health Care for Elderly and Disabled People since 1999. The focus of provision is on preventing diseases in older people which lead to disability later in life.[xvii] Older people often suffer from non-communicable diseases. Health services are delivered via the Health Sector Strategic Plan 2008-2015. This plan includes “non-communicable diseases and other health problems”. The Ministry of Social, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation endorsed National Guidelines on Home Based Care for Old and Frail People in 2012.
Older people’s associations: The Ministry of Social, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation endorsed National Guidelines on the Establishment of Older People’s Association (OPA) in 2009. The Ministry of Social, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation issued a directive for the establishment of one OPA for each commune of the country.
Social pension: There is no state pension provision, except for retired civil servants and war veterans. Currently, the Government is implement new social protection instrument contributory inclusive of old age.[xviii]
The following organisations are part of the HelpAge network in Cambodia:
- HelpAge Cambodia
- Village Support Group
The following are recent publications and resources related to Cambodia’s older population.
- National Guidelines for Home Based Care (2012)
- Older People’s Associations: Service directory 2012-2013
- National Guidelines for the establishment and management of older people’s associations (2009)
- Establishing and working with older people’s associations in Cambodia: a practical guideline
- Demographics of Population Ageing in Cambodia, 2012
- Old People – A story from Cambodia (video)
- Supporting the Elderly (video)
- What plans are there for universal pensions? (video)
- HelpAge in Cambodia (video)
References[i] Demographics of Population Ageing in Cambodia, 2012, accessed 28 May 2013
[iv] National Institute of Statistics (2012). Demographics of population ageing in Cambodia, 2012
[v] Dr. P. Bunnak, July 10 – Demography, situation of Older People in Cambodia
[vi] HelpAge International (2004). Committed to caring: Older women and HIV & AIDS in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam
[vii] IFAD, Enabling the rural poor to overcome poverty in Cambodia, accessed 29 May 2013
[viii] UNDP, Human Development Report 2013, accessed 28 May 2013
[ix] Demographics of Population Ageing in Cambodia, 2012, accessed 28 May 2013
[xi] Zimmer Z. (2005). Active life expectancy and functional limitations among older Cambodians
[xii] Knodel J. and Z. Zimmer (2009)
[xiii] Demographics of Population Ageing in Cambodia, 2012, accessed 28 May 2013
[xiv] Zimmer Z. and J. Knodel (2013). Older-age parents in rural Cambodia and migration of adult children: A case study of two communes in Battambang Province. Asian Population Studies, 9, 2.
[xv] Kingdom of Cambodia Country Paper, p.3 (28 May 2013)
[xvi] United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International, Overview of available policies and legislation, data and research, and institutional arrangements relating to older persons – progress since Madrid, New York, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, p.48 and p.50
[xvii] Community Services for the Elderly: Country Report (30 April 2013)