Kompong Cham Child Workers Smoking More

Children working illegally in Kom­pong Cham province’s sev­en rubber plantations face greater health problems this year due to increased cigarette use, a habit thought to keep mosquitoes at bay, aid officials say.

Workers say cigarettes serve as a natural insect repellent, en­abling them to work longer hours in the mosquito-infested  plan­tations. For every 10 children living in approximately 140 workers’ villages, 3.5 smoke, said Chey Dara, the Me­mot district’s Save the Children Australia facilitator.

The effect smoking has on devel­oping lungs is worse for children than adults, said Som Yen, an educator for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.

“Smoking damages children more quickly because their bodies are still young,” he said. Child smokers exhibit poor memory and decreased ability to study.

While plantation owners do not officially recruit children, approximately 3,000 students have left school for work in the 2002-2003 academic year alone, said Huot Nun, Department of Edu­cation director for Kompong Cham prov­ince.

Working to counteract the dropout rate, Kompong Cham’s governor enacted a new measure ordering the commune councils to return all child laborers to school, but progress is yet to be seen.

A study sponsored by the Inter­na­tional Labor Organization in April shows 406 of the 956 children working in the Chub plantation, the province’s largest, are full-time employees who receive no education.

ILO joined forces with the New Far­­mer Organization and the depart­ments of Education and School Affairs to educate children about the harmful effects of smoking.

They have appealed to the US Department of Labor for $100,000 in aid, which will be allocated early next month, said ILO sector coordinator Seang Meng. No effort has been made to deter undocumented children from working underage.

Kompong Cham’s upsurge in child smoking is the latest chapter in Cambodia’s long history of to­bacco addiction. A study re­leased by the World Health Or­gani­zation in February showed that countries with little governmental control over tobacco experience higher rates of smoking.

Health officials mark Cambo­dia as having one of the lowest tax rates in the world on cigarettes. Seventy percent of Cambo­dian men smoke regularly, accor­ding to a 1999 national social-economic survey.

Although Prime Minister Hun Sen hinted in November that a tobacco tax would be implemented to pay for road repairs, Cam­bo­dians have yet to see the duty.

To further curb the rise of young smokers, the Ministry of Health has urged television stations to ban smoking advertisements during prime-time viewing hours. Efforts may be in vain, however, as large tobacco manufacturers are targeting Southeast Asian countries to offset dwindling markets in North America and Europe.


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