Child Workers Release Manifesto on Rights

By Kay Kimsong

and Stew Magnuson

the cambodia daily

Seventy present and former Cambodian child workers have called for an end to child labor in dangerous occupations.

In a manifesto released Tues­day, they called for the abolition of child soldiers, prostitutes, do­mestic laborers, porters and work­­­­­ers in quarries, slaughterhouses and sea fishing boats.

“I hope the government can establish a law against all child labor,” said 16-year-old Keng, a Cambodian who used to work as a beer girl in Bangkok.

She and five other members of the committee helped write the manifesto spoke at The For­eign Correspondents Club of Cambo­dia.

The manifesto calls for all construction workers and brick-factory workers to be at least 13 years old. Night street sweepers and garment factory workers should be at least 15, and beer girls at least 18, the manifesto said.

Such occupations as vendors, scavengers, shoe polishers and agricultural laborers are acceptable as long as there are regulations for safety and working hours and there is enough time for rest and study, the children said.

The manifesto asks communities to provide free education for all children.

It recommends laws to protect children from abuse, and severe punishment for em­ployers who exploit children.

The manifesto was written at a July 1-3 workshop organized by the local human rights group Licadho.

While the government has said in the past that there are no child soldiers in Cambodia, Tim Seaman, a children rights consultant to Licadho, said three former soldiers were involved in writing the manifesto.

Eighteen is the legal age for conscription, but there are no clear laws on the age of volunteer soldiers, he said.

Keng, who was trafficked into Thailand at the age of 14 to work as a beer girl for Tiger Beer, urged all children to avoid crossing the border.

She worked every day of the month serving beer and earned 2,000 baht a month (about $50 at the current exchange rate) until authorities put her in a detention center for being an illegal alien.

“There were many Cambodian children there,” she said of her six-month stay.

“We were beaten, badly treated by guards and not fed well.” Some of the children died while in custody, she said.

Another committee member, 16-year-old “Rotha,” who asked that an alias be used, spent the beginning of the year as a robber in Poipet in Banteay Meanchey.

After running away from home, he worked as a porter in the border town for two months until a Thai man approached him and asked if he “wanted to feel stronger.”

The man gave Rotha injections on an unknown drug twice a day, then taught him and other boys how to commit armed robberies.

Rotha said the man, who also sexually abused him, took their money in exchange for drugs.

“When I took the drug, I felt stronger than ever. I wasn’t afraid of anything,” he said.

Rotha was eventually rescued by another Thai man who gave him money to return home.

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