Thousands of children are toiling in the country’s fisheries sector, living in conditions that are often hazardous to their health and depriving them of an education, government officials and UN representatives said yesterday at a workshop in Phnom Penh.
Seventy-five percent of the 1.5 million working children in Cambodia—which has the highest child labor rate in the region—work in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, according to the most recent survey undertaken by Unicef, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Bank in 2007.
According to a preliminary report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and ILO at the workshop, children working in the fisheries sector are involved in such dangerous tasks as diving to “excessive depths” to bring up nets, unloading catches, repairing nets and cleaning fish.
“Children work excessive hours, use dangerous tools and face water-borne diseases and other serious dangers to their health and growth,” the ILO said in a statement. Children face health problems and even drowning, according to the 2007 report.
Simrin Singh, ILO senior specialist on child labor, said that children in the sector also do not have proper legal protections.
“Most of child labor in fisheries is in a home-based situation, so in some ways the law in Cambodia does not apply to the majority [of fisheries workers], who are unpaid family workers,” said Ms. Singh.
Teaching parents that it is not in their long-term interests for their children to work, ensuring access to education and increasing youth employment opportunities for older teenagers are some of the ways to tackle child labor in the fisheries, according to Bernd Seiffert, FAO local institutions and livelihoods officer based in Bangkok. “Children who do not attend school today—do not learn to read and write—will not be entrepreneurs tomorrow,” he said.
The three-day workshop, organized by the Fisheries Administration with the support of the ILO and FAO, aims to find solutions to the pervasive problem of child labor in fisheries, and a draft plan of action is due to be released on Friday.