Children Toil for Nothing in Many City Homes

Srey Mao does not remember her real name or where in Cam­bo­dia she is from.

All she remembers is that when she was 7-years-old, a broker sold her to a family in Phnom Penh for $50.

Srey Mao, who claims to be 15 but looks younger, said she spends her days cleaning the family’s home, cooking for them and helping them sell baking ingredients at a nearby market.

She receives no pay and has never attended school—her employer already paid for her when she was a child.

Interviewed last week at an NGO in Phnom Penh that assists child workers, Srey Mao said she was not sent to Phnom Penh by her parents. She said she was tricked by the broker.

“They said they were taking me to see my mom,” she said.

Thousands of children are kept in Phnom Penh households to clean, cook and do other activities ordered by their employers, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Institute of Statistics.

The report estimated that there are 27,950 children working in Phnom Penh homes, and about 57 percent of them were brought to employers by their parents.

The highest percentage of children who are brought to Phnom Penh for work come from Kom­pong Cham, Takeo and Banteay Meanchey provinces, according to the report, which was compiled from surveys taken in thousands of households in the capital.

Poor families often see sending their children to do domestic work as a way to feed and educate them, say children’s rights organizations.

“Parents are happy when they see kids living with rich families or senior officials because they hope [the employers] will help their kids and themselves get better jobs in the future,” said Chea Pyden, executive director of the Vulnerable Children Assistance Organization.

“Most of these children get punished by their employers,” said Chea Pyden, whose NGO trains child workers in basic skills.

“They get slapped…[and] sometimes they are molested,” he said, adding that some children often get “locked in,” and are not allowed to leave the house or associate with other children.

Chea Pyden said that his organization asks families to allow child workers to come to VCAO for short periods of vocational training. There they learn about their rights, how to read, apply make-up, hair-dressing and sewing.

Un Vuthy, a coordinator for the International Labor Organization, which sponsored the report, said the phenomenon of child domestic labor is often ignored.

“Many times people overlook child domestic workers because they think it is better than having the children work on the street,” he said. “But it isn’t really. The children get exploited.”

Child domestic workers—who are between the ages of 7 to 17—can work very long hours with little or no pay, the report stated. Many of them do not attend school.

“Sometimes there are sexual violations, injuries—but the real problem is that the children have no freedom,” said Seoeithida Soreach, a director at the Women Development Association. “Their childhood is lost.”

Another worker, Nget Srey Mao, 16, said she moved from Takeo province to work in the capital because her family was poor. She cleans, cooks and helps her employer sell Cambodian noodles.

“I like [the work],” Nget Srey Mao said as she carefully applied make-up during her course at VCAO.

Of her employers, she said: “They do insult me, but there is no physical abuse.”

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