The Challenge of data collection: How many invisible persons with disabilities are there in Cambodia?

15 Dec 2017

How many invisible persons with disabilities are there in Cambodia? Kaat is telling her dream to be a hairdresser. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

On a humid afternoon in late August in Prey Basak village, Svay Rieng Province, I meet 15-year-old Kaat. The girl who lives with her family in a traditional wooden Khmer house is fulfilling her dreams: she is learning to become a hairdresser! What might seem somehow ordinary for most is extraordinary for her.

Kaat is a person with disabilities. She has difficulty hearing and speaking. With support from the Disabled People’s Organization (DPO) in cooperation with the local government, she is now doing what she always desired. DPOs are organizations whose members are persons with disabilities. The organizations form a network to promote and ensure access to services for them.

When I visited Prey Basak, I met around 15 persons with disabilities. This number struck me as considerably low: The head of the DPO there told me there were around 200 households in the village. The Population Research (2013) notes an average of 4.6 people per household in rural Cambodia. This makes me draw an estimate of around 900 people living in Prey Basak. And, according to World Bank and WHO, around 15% of the world’s population live with some sort of disability. Therefore, the number of persons with disabilities in Prey Basak should be around 130. What am I missing here…or better…who?

First, not all disabilities are visible, e.g. mental, intellectual and sensory impairments are classified by the United Nations as disabilities that cannot always be visually recognized by people. And then, in the Khmer language there are no exact words to describe intellectual disabilities. There also seems to be a general lack of understanding about disabilities in Cambodia. If the definition of who counts as a person with disabilities is not inclusive of all sorts of disabilities, many people might not be included in the data and therefore excluded from services and social protection schemes. So, there is need for better awareness and an effective identification system.

But not only persons with invisible disabilities are not counted. In fact, there is very little accurate disability related data for Cambodia and the collection of quality data remains a challenge. A national database with registered persons with disabilities including information on the type of disability, age, gender, ethnicity, and place of residence is yet to be established. Only when we have such comprehensive data we can help people like Kaat achieve their full potential, if not they go unnoticed and unserved.

In cooperation with the Royal Government of Cambodia and funded by the Australian Government, UNDP, UNICEF and WHO implement the Disability Rights Initiative Cambodia (DRIC). This project is supporting the government in implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and empowering DPOs to protect their rights and give them a voice. Many DPOs record the number of persons with disabilities as well as types of disabilities so they could be a source for filling the gap in the national database. 

Through DRIC, the cooperation between DPOs and the government shows some results in improving the life of persons with disabilities in Cambodia – like the one of Ms. Kaat in Prey Basak. But only if we know who is out there, we can ensure we “leave no one behind”. 


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