At Risk of Becoming a School Drop Out at 12!

12 year old Sinoun* was in very real danger of dropping out of school completely when the #everydayheroes of our social work team met her.

Life was proving to be extremely challenging as she was caring for her mother, who was sick with tuberculosis, and her disabled father. Her dad used alcohol to help him cope with the pain of his arthritis, which made the family situation very difficult. Sinoun often went to school hungry, and there were also many medical expenses to meet.  She told us ‘My mum works as a scavenger when she is not too sick, but we mostly live on money my sister sends us from Thailand. She migrated over there to work.’  Family finances were precarious, and poverty is recognized as one of the major drivers in depriving girls of a full education in Cambodia.

Tradition, social norms and gender stereotypes all combine to prioritize the education of male children over females…”

The Cambodian Situation

Data collected on an annual basis by the Cambodian Ministry of Education and international NGO’s suggests that whilst school enrollment in Cambodia is gender balanced initially, the dropout rate among female students starts to go up as they rise through the grades, particularly when they reach the secondary level. Reports show the gender gap in primary school in urban and rural areas has been narrowed down considerably, yet the overall enrollment rate significantly decreases for female students in lower secondary and upper secondary level. Many factors are at play here – across Cambodia, students still have to pay unofficial fees to enroll and stay in school, which can be prohibitive for poor families. For these families, keeping children in school can also represent a loss of income, as the children cannot work to financially support the household. Tradition, social norms and gender stereotypes all combine to prioritize the education of male children over females – it is viewed as quite acceptable for a female child to drop out of school in order to support the household[1]!

Our Intervention

Sinoun was taking care of her parents and doing the housework whilst trying to keep going to school. However, our visiting social workers could see that she was in danger of leaving school altogether. Team Manager Dina recalls what their response was. ‘We knew intervention was needed. We provided services including getting appropriate medicines to treat her mother and father and counseling for the family. Her father recognized that his alcohol dependency was having a bad effect on their lives, so he cut back on his drinking. We supplied the school materials that Sinoun needed, plus a bicycle so she can get to and from school safely and quickly, and we continue to visit and provide support to make sure that she can still go to school.’

My dream is to become a tailor… I am very happy because I can go to school with my friends.”

The last word comes from Sinoun. ‘My dream is to become a tailor. Before I could not go to school, but now… everything is better.  I am very happy because I can go to school with my friends.’

A balanced world is a better world. At Friends, we are proud to say that 47% of those we support are girls and women! Together, let’s #BalanceforBetter!

*Name changed to protect identity. Photographs in this article are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent any of those described within.


This survey of eight schools across two provinces found that of 63 dropout students interviewed, 60% were female. Around 30% of parents of dropouts cited poverty as an issue in choosing to stop their child’s education.

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