Country insights


In Verisk Maplecroft’s Women’s and Girls’ Rights Index 2016, Cambodia is ranked 71st out of 198 countries (where 1st denotes the greatest risk). The index categorises the country as exposing investors to an ‘extreme risk’ of association with practices that discriminate against, or otherwise limit or infringe the rights of, women and girls.

Increased access to education has resulted in 95% attendance rates for girls in primary school. However, only 45% of boys and girls in Cambodia continue into secondary education.[1] Many drop out for economic reasons, especially in rural areas, where girls still hold traditional roles in the household. Technical education is not aligned with market needs and few girls access it. Girls are increasingly attending university, but the types of study that girls enrol in often lack correlation to the labour market. As a result, the gender gap at tertiary education limits girls’ access to the higher income levels of the labour market.

Early and forced marriage is rare. However, adolescent pregnancy rates continue to be high. Pregnancy-related complications represent a serious health concern for both mother and child, especially in rural areas.[2] This is despite recent improvements in maternal health, including increased access to pre- and post-natal checks and to hospital-based births, and a decrease in maternal mortality. Another issue that disproportionally affects girls is child sex work, both within the country and elsewhere in Asia. Although the Cambodian government has made great advances in clamping down on the child sex trade, raids by the authorities continue to discover underage girls working in brothels.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of female labour force participation in the region at 79.7%, but this is considerably lower than the male labour force participation, at 89.1%. Most women are employed in agriculture, including forestry and fisheries (66%), followed by wholesale, retailing and services (12.7%) and manufacturing (10%). The agriculture sector is plagued by low productivity, low returns to labour and low economic security. The growing garment industry is employing more women than men. Many of these women leave behind their families, including young children and babies, in rural areas, to work in the factories.

While the increase in family income has benefited the Cambodian economy, it comes at a cost. Most of the young female employees work under fixed duration contracts (FDCs), which circumvent the right to maternity leave under regular contracts. When women do fall pregnant, they often get demoted or their contracts are terminated. According to Sophea Chrek, technical assistant at the Workers Information Center (WIC) in Phnom Penh, garment workers consider themselves “too poor” to have children.[3]

[1] United Nations Children’s Fund, Cambodia, Statistics, available online at:

[2] United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, Young Motherhood threatens girls in rural Cambodia, November 2015, available online at:

[3] Inter Press Service, Tolson, M. Working Cambodia Women ‘Too Poor’ to have children, May 2014, available online at: