traing district, Takeo province – Snguon Veoun is seeing his four youngest children for the first time in two months, he said, as he sat with three of them on a bamboo platform in front of his house in Trapaing village.
He works on construction sites in Phnom Penh to support his wife and seven children and visits his village only once every few months, the 43-year-old said on a recent morning.
Until three years ago he used to spend most of his time farming his 0.8 hectares of land, which would yield enough rice to feed his family for several months a year. But when two of his sons and later his wife, Hing Eam, 48, became sick, Snguon Veoun had no choice but to sell his land to meet the sudden medical costs. At the time, land prices in the village were low, and he only fetched about $100 for his farmland—not enough to even cover the cost of his son’s appendix operation at the provincial hospital, Snguon Veoun said.
With no land to farm and the near doubling of rice prices during the past year, Snguon Veoun’s family now spends all its income on food.
“We can’t save any money,” Snguon Veoun said. “If we get sick, we can’t pay for a doctor and we might die.”
The family has only two meals per day and purchases about 2.5 kg of rice for their daily food. At times, they are forced to borrow rice from other villagers in return for free labor, said Soen Jat, the family’s 17-year-old son.
All family members, except the two youngest children, now need to work to support the family, Snguon Veoun said, adding that three of his elder children work in Phnom Penh as garment workers and live with him there.
His 12-year-old daughter is his only child that attends school, Snguon Veoun said, adding that despite her age she is only in second grade because she often goes with her mother to work as a laborer. His two youngest children, 3 and 5 years old, also join their mother in the fields.
“I know when my wife brings our daughters with her they can’t attend school, but they are too young to stay alone,” Snguon Veoun said.
Soen Jat dropped out of fifth-grade last year to work in the village as a day laborer and to look after his siblings.
“I know when I have poor knowledge it is hard to find a job,” he said. “But what can I do? My family is too poor.”