Hidden behind the closed doors of their employers, roughly 28,000 children work as domestic laborers in Phnom Penh, according to the most recent survey of the International Labor Organization.
The report acknowledges that child domestic labor has been common in Cambodia for a long time, but it says that it’s grown as a result of “poverty, rapid population growth, the movement of people from country to city, and a weak education system.”
The ILO report estimates that the number of domestic child workers is roughly equivalent to one in 10 of the city’s population of children.
“We consider them at risk because we don’t know if the child domestic laborer is safe [at their] employer’s house,” ILO program officer Un Vuthy said Sunday.
Most of the city’s young domestic workers—the large majority of whom are between 10 and 17 years old—work seven days a week, according to the organization.
About three out of every four children in domestic labor in Phnom Penh receive no cash salary, but instead receive shelter, food, and sometimes education at their employer’s expense.
But the often intense work schedule can lead to a cycle of poverty and illiteracy, which the domestic labor report says generally affects girls keenly because they are more likely to drop out of school in order to get the housework done for other people.
“And even if the child goes to school, it is likely she will be too tired to study, be regularly absent or just drop out because it is too hard to work and study at the same time,” the ILO report states.
Very often parents, particularly those from large, poor families, perceive a job for their child in someone else’s home as a chance for them to have a better life, according to the report.