Keeping children in school and out of work: putting a stop to child labour in Cambodia
11 Jun 2009
Source: ChildFund Australia
In Cambodia, 40% of all children aged between 7-17 years are engaged in some form of child labour - work that is defined as undesirable for children or potentially injurious to their wellbeing.
While Cambodia has enjoyed a period of economic growth during the last ten years, poverty remains widespread, and many families must supplement their household income through the earnings of their children. The global financial crisis has exacerbated the problem with even more families forced to rely on earnings from their children.
Over one-third of families are still forced to survive on less than one dollar a day, and most children in Cambodia suffer some level of malnutrition, enough to cause at least moderate stunting of their growth. Improved economic conditions have also created greater inequalities in society - widening the gap between the rich and poor.
ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence says: "For most families, sending a child out to work is not a voluntary choice - parents regret having to remove their children from school, and worry about the dangers they face. But the additional income is often the key to survival for the whole family."
While the majority of Cambodian children living in rural areas perform agricultural tasks on the family farm, or participate in household duties, children involved in child labour face much greater risks. The salt production industry, fishing sector, brick factories and plantation work are environments where children are known to be subject to abuse and exploitation.
ChildFund Cambodia country director Carol Mortensen adds: "The use of children from rural areas as extremely poorly paid domestic servants in provincial towns and cities is common. Some receive no pay at all, but are simply given shelter and food. This form of labour can be very risky due to the vulnerability of such children to various forms of abuse, including violence and sexual exploitation."
Preventing child labour
ChildFund is tackling the incidence of child labour with preventative strategies. The central goal of ChildFund's programs is to encourage school attendance for as long as possible.
Carol explains: "Most Cambodian children really want to attend school, at least to primary school level. And those attending school are, by definition, unavailable for child labour. The longer children remain at school and the higher the level of formal education they reach, the greater their chances of avoiding exploitative labour and finding decent employment in their adult life."
In Svay Rieng, ChildFund Cambodia is addressing the child labour problem through its Voices of our Children project. This increases attendance at school by improving the quality and accessibility of schools, ensuring schools are safe places to learn, improving play and recreation facilities and increasing the relevance of curriculum and learning through teacher training.
ChildFund also recognises that young people not in school are particularly vulnerable to exploitative forms of child labour. ChildFund's Youth for Development programs are teaching practical lifeskills, providing small business training and assistance in establishing livelihoods such as fish farming, improved rice growing, animal husbandry and ceramic pot making.
Girls and boys participating in the project learn about money management and business planning, take out micro loans and establish small businesses which will assist their families and build their own confidence and skills as decision-makers.