Industrial farms in Battambang province are employing child laborers who use methamphetamine daily to maximize their
working hours and incomes, NGO officials said last week.
More than 100 children are traveling from three villages in Banan district to work at large farms in neighboring districts—many of which are run by former Khmer Rouge officials—said Nhim Sambath, a World Vision project manager working with children.
Most of the children working at the farms use between one and three methamphetamine, or yaba pills, per day, while they clear scrub land and tend to crops, Nhim Sambath said.
“The children want to earn more money, so when they use drugs they can work all day,” he said. “When they come home, they are drug addicts.”
Nhim Sambath said it was unclear whether the farm owners directly encourage the children to use the drug. But World Vision has received some reports from children in Battambang that the farm owners provide child laborers with methamphetamine, said Sok Naly, World Vision communications coordinator.
World Vision works closely with children in Banan district, providing education on labor exploitation and drug abuse.
The children, mostly boys ages 10 to 16, leave home to work at the farms for three- to four-month stints each year, once or twice annually, Nhim Sambath said.
The farms are located in Phnom Proek, Sampov Loun, and Kamrieng districts, he said. They grow corn, soy beans, and peanuts, which are transported to Thailand and Phnom Penh for sale.
Thang Sin, Kamrieng district police chief, confirmed that former Khmer Rouge officials in Kamrieng are employing children to work on farms.
However, the children only work part time and do not use drugs, he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
You Oeurng, Phnom Proek district police chief, said that although drug use is common among migrant workers along the Thai border, laborers at farms in his district do not use drugs and are all over 18 years old.
Prach Chan, Battambang provincial governor, said he was unaware of World Vision’s reports, but would investigate them. The province has had serious drug problems in the past, he said.
“Two or three years ago there was active drug use amongst both the elderly and the young, especially among small kids along the border,” Prach Chan said.
Rodney Hatfield, UN Children’s Fund representative, said he was unaware of children in Battambang, or in other parts of Cambodia, being coerced to take drugs in order to enhance their ability to perform manual labor.
“Working on a farm of any kind contravenes the rights of the child,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “If they are getting drugs it’s much more serious. It’s leading them down the road of no return.”
Although Unicef is concerned by the reports, Hatfield said, “the problem is, very frankly, we can’t handle all these things. We can’t be a fire fighting force for individual cases.” However, Unicef may be in a position to lobby the government to take action on the reported exploitation, he added.
Graham Shaw, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Phnom Penh, said he was not aware of the World Vision reports but that methamphetamine use appears to be increasingly common in rural Cambodia.
“At harvest time [farm laborers] increase income by working longer hours by using yaba, but the money they make is going to more yaba rather than on supporting the family,” Shaw said in a telephone interview last week.
“It’s the direct link between drug use and poverty,” he said. “It’s a hell of a mess.”