Activists Highlight Exploited Child Workers

It has become an all-too-familiar and sad story: A teen-age girl is lured from the provinces to Phnom Penh by a stranger who promises good money for “easy” sales work.

But the easy sales work turns out to be as a sex worker in a brothel.

That’s what happened last year to Nan Ganni from Pursat. On Thursday, the 16-year-old teen-ager recounted how she was locked in a room and injected with drugs for a month, then forced to begin receiving customers. It took her six months and help from an NGO and the police to escape. Now she is learning sewing skills and hoping to return soon to her family.

Nan Ganni’s story was one of those highlighted Thursday at Cambodia’s anniversary of last year’s global march against child labor.

More than 600,000 Cambo­dians between the ages of 7 and 15 are estimated to be working. Although no firm figures are available on how many of those are in dangerous or abusive work such as prostitution, officials be­lieve the number is substantial and growing because of the country’s economic problems.

“I think poverty causes more children to work,” said Ngeng Teng, chair of the Global March Com­­­mittee in Cam­bodia and coordinator of children’s rights for the hu­man rights group Li­cadho. He also noted the rising  use of drugs, especially in prostitution and manual work.

At a workshop Thursday on the issue, a manifesto against child labor was presented to the Min­istry of Social Affairs, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

The manifesto calls for the abolishment of child workers in the military, prostitution, quarrying, salt field farming, sea fishing, portering, slaughterhouse work and domestic services. It said construction, garment, brick and other factory work should be regulated by age.

The declaration states that scavenging, shoe polishing and farm­ing are ac­ceptable for children, but should be regulated so kids also have enough time for rest and study.

The global march passed through Cambodia last February and a new convention against the exploitation of child workers is now being prepared for signing by countries worldwide.

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