21,000 Cambodian Kids Toil in Domestic Labor

Children work in many dangerous environments in Cambodia, such as brick factories, rubber plantations and in the homes of the middle class and the wealthy.

While the latter occupation may seem relatively innocuous, it poses great risks to an estimated 21,000 children in Phnom Penh and in the provinces of Bat­tam­bang, Kom­pong Cham and Siem Reap, ac­cording to 2007 research compiled by human rights groups Licadho and World Vi­sion Cambodia. The two NGOs held a free concert Mon­­day in Phnom Penh in an ef­fort to raise awareness of child do­mestic labor.

“The biggest risk is that their work is hidden,” said MP Joseph, chief technical adviser with the In­ternational Program on the Elim­ination of Child Labor at the In­ternational Labor Organization.

Child domestic labor, he said, is considered one of the “worst forms of child labor” by the Cambodian government, which identified 16 sectors in Cambodia that are particularly hazardous to the health and safety of children in accordance with ILO Convention 182. The convention, ratified by Cambodia in 2005, seeks to end the worst forms of child labor worldwide.

Children are often forced into domestic employment to pay back family debt or because their families are too poor to care for them, said Kek Galabru, president of Licadho.

Child servants are often sub­jec­ted to working long hours without receiving medical care, the chance to go to school, or adequate payment, Kek Galabru explained. Owners sometimes beat or sexually abuse children, she said, adding that “it’s all very bad for development of children.”

It is illegal for children under 15 to work and, in general, children under 18 are prohibited from working in hazardous environments un­der the ILO convention and the Cam­­bodian Labor Law. Child do­mestic labor, however, often falls be­low the radar be­cause it takes place behind the closed doors of private homes, Kek Galabru said.

“The problem is corruption and not implementing the law,” she added.

The Ministry of Labor has been working with the ILO to develop a directive that would establish conditions for children to do domestic work in households, Joseph said.

“It would tell employers under what conditions a child can be em­ployed,” he said, explaining that conditions covered under the directive might include whether a child under 18 years of age can be em­ployed and conditions for labor inspectors to be able to visit private homes where children work.

In addition to the development of the directive, the Ministry of Labor said it has taken action to decrease child domestic labor and that it is cooperating with all provincial au­thorities to crack down on all forms of child labor.

“Child domestic labor is a problem,” Labor Ministry Secretary of State Othsman Hassan said by phone Wednesday. “We the government are trying our best to take the children to school,” he added.

     (Additional reporting by Kim Chan and Neou Vannarin)

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