Child Labour in Cambodia – a massive 400,000 strong problem

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More than 400,000 Children of school age are estimated to be in the workforce in Cambodia – child labourers who are not getting an education and who (in one out of 10 cases) are engaged in physically dangerous work.

This figure, based on a large household survey conducted by the Government shows that Cambodia has a long way to go in protecting children’s rights to a level accepted by U.N. Member nations.

Cambodia pays lip service to the rights of children – but the Government is on record as saying that these rights don’t – or can’t – apply to households facing extreme poverty. In other words in the absence of any protection, or social welfare safety-net, children will be forced by circumstances into child labour.

Here is the accepted United Nations Article on Child Labour: (Source UNICEF)

Article 32 (Child labour):
The government should protect children from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education.While the Convention protects children from harmful and exploitative work, there is nothing in it that prohibits parents from expecting their children to help out at home in ways that are safe and appropriate to their age. If children help out in a family farm orbusiness, the tasks they do be safe and suited to their level of development and comply withnational labour laws. Children’s work should not jeopardize any of their other rights, including the right to education, or the right to relaxation and play.

And here is the news report from the South American news and information Agency Prensa Latina regarding the new survey results:

Phnom Penh, December 2 – 2013 (Prensa Latina) Child labor in Cambodia registers alarming levels, according to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, the Planning Ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The figures corresponding to year 2012 indicate that some 429,000 children were doing the work of adults, two thirds of them in rural areas.

This represents a 10 percent of those between 5 and 17 years of age. Consequently, half of them dropped out of school or never received primary health care, adds the first survey of its kind conducted in the country since 2001.

One of every nine child laborers were engaged in hazardous labor, including working at construction sites or factories, logging, operating heavy machinery and brick-making.

Researchers surveyed a sample of 9,600 households in all 23 provinces and the capital Phnom Penh, but they had no access to children who live at workplaces or those who have been exploited for sex- or drug-trafficking purposes.

In the child labor report foreword, Minister of Planning Chhay Than said he expected the report would be useful to ‘planners and policy-makers. Eliminating child labor in Cambodia is one of the most urgent challenges the government faces,’ he says.

This is a tricky issue for visitors to Cambodia. Do you boycott a cafe that has children clearing the tables? What if the children are the sons and daughters of the owner’s family?

I’d be interested in any responses readers might have. One principle I’d try and stick to is to determine if the children (at a cafe or shop or wherever we might see a child working) are getting a school education. If they are, then their trajectory is a good one. If not, then they’re getting exploited. Any thoughts?

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