Child Haulers Struggle Across Thai Border

sampov loun, Battambang Pro­vince – An untold amount of goods crosses the border along a bridge in this former Khmer Rouge stronghold, and on any given morning it appears that most of it is transported not by truck or by mule, but by children.

The dusty road is crowded with men, women and children pushing and pulling small carts loaded with vegetables, oil, meat, fish and cakes from the Thai market. The carts originating from Cambodia are mostly filled with sacks of corn and beans. Every­one must pay about $0.11 as a fee to cross the border.

The haulers are in a hurry to do as much work as possible in the morning. The strain of loading the carts is especially visible on the faces of the children, many of whom must jump up and then bear down on the handlebars of the carts to lift the enormous sacks off the ground.

“I am trying to make money to support my family and my school,” said 13-year-old Meas Phea. “I just wait outside the [Thai] market and I am called, or I ask them to put their goods in the cart.

Meas Phea, who has been hauling goods for about a year, said he must work because his parents’ income from farming is not enough to support the family.

“I pull more than 100 kg of goods at one time,” he said. “It’s too heavy, and it’s hard. But I am happy to do it because it’s my own work, using my own power. It is important to make things easier for my parents.”

Meas Phea said he earns from about $0.16 to $0.22 a trip, de­pending on the size of the load and the generosity of the market vendor. He makes two to three trips each morning.

“I give my mother most of the money I earn. I keep [about $0.11] for my breakfast and some for buying pens and books.”

About 250 Cambodians and 50 Thais cross the border each day to transport goods, said Ok Chhoeng, a border patrol officer at the Sampov Loun district check­point.

The Cambodians typically trans­­port meat and vegetables to sell at Sampov Loun district market, while the Thai businessmen buy beans and corn from Cam­bodia, he said. The Thais usually do the buying, the Cambodians the hauling, he said. The border is closed for goods transport on the weekends.

“We do not allow trucks to carry goods, only carts pushed by people. This is the provincial officials’ policy to give people work, so they can make some money,” Ok Chhoeng said.

“People are far away from the town, so they have to have some work at the border.”

Pa Socheat Vong, deputy governor of Battambang, said that in addition to the extra jobs provided, there was another good reason to ban vehicles from traveling across the border: the differing traffic systems in the country. Vehicles in Thailand drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Toeum Tim, 12, said he had made about $0.55 that morning. Like most Cambodian children, he goes to school during the early session for one month, a later session the next month. That permits him to work mornings on the border every other month.

It was about 8:30 am. “I will go back home to wash my clothes and have lunch,” Toeum Tim said. “Then I will go to school.”


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