Scarred by genocide in the late 20th century, Cambodia has experienced economic growth in recent years. But the country’s rural and urban poor are seeing few of the benefits.
In just four years, Pol Pot’s paranoid Khmer Rouge regime killed 1.7 million Cambodians – through overwork, starvation and execution. The regime collapsed in 1979, but a decade of conflict with neighbouring Vietnam ensued.
A generation later, unprocessed traumas play out in the form of fatalism and a lack of social cohesion and trust. Women’s unequal cultural status feeds high levels of domestic violence.
A widening gulf between a rich urban elite and rural poor is causing an exodus to the capital Phnom Penh – swelling slum and squatter populations. Meanwhile, thousands of children live on the streets after losing parents – many to AIDS-related illnesses.
Deforestation has increased the risk of floods, and more than half of rural people lack access to safe water. Unexploded mines still claim lives.
Cambodia is a source, destination and transit country for adults and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour.
Amid these problems, the church is growing. From just a handful of believers who survived a Khmer Rouge purge, there are now more than 3,000 congregations.