More than 10 percent of children in the country aged between 5 and 17 work as laborers, with more than 5 percent engaged in “hazardous labor,” a situation that must be addressed by the government, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said in a report released Thursday.
The Child Labor Survey 2012, which was conducted by the ILO along with the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) in April 2012, found that 1 out of every 10 children in the country is forced to work in a way that violates Cambodian laws or international conventions ratified by the government.
Out of a total population of about 4 million children aged five to 17 in Cambodia, 429,380 are defined by the ILO as being “child laborers,” a group that includes children between five and 12 employed for at least one hour a week, children between 12 and 14 who work for more than 12 hours a week, children between 15 and 17 employed for more than 48 hours a week and all children who work in conditions that are hazardous to their health.
“Because children are being forced to work, they are dropping out of school. This needs to be addressed,” said Bijoy Raychaudhuri, project director of the ILO’s Global Action Program on Child Labor Issues, speaking at a press conference yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Cambodiana Hotel.
“Child labor is something to be targeted for elimination,” he added.
The survey, Mr. Raychaudhuri said, is the most comprehensive report on child labor in Cambodia ever, and the first since 2001.
About 48 percent of the child laborers surveyed had dropped out of school, while about 7.4 percent had never received any sort of formal education.
More than 236,000 children in the country continue to work in hazardous conditions, according to the report, a group that includes almost 78,000 child workers between five and 11 years old.
“Hazardous work is to be eliminated, whether the child is five or 17 years old,” Mr. Raychaudhuri said, noting that Cambodia has passed a law—Proclamation 106 —that prohibits children from working in conditions that place them at risk of bodily harm.
The survey, which was conducted by 75 researchers and involved a sample of 9,600 households across all 23 provinces and Phnom Penh, found that almost half of the country’s child laborers worked for more than 48 hours a week, while only 5.1 percent worked between one and seven hours a week.
About half of the child laborers were unpaid, while the other half were wage-earning employees. About 3 percent were self-employed. On average, child wage-earners made between 100,000 riel, or about $25, and 500,000 riel, or about $125, a month, depending on how many hours they worked.
Mr. Raychaudhuri said that the rate of child labor in Cambodia was on par with neighboring Laos and Vietnam, but that comparative statistics in the region were largely unavailable as most governments are hesitant to allow the ILO to conduct surveys on such a sensitive subject.
In the report, the ILO and NIS, which is part of the Ministry of Planning, say that the signing of conventions and adoption of legislation by the government has not been sufficient in tackling child labor in the country.
“The government’s commitment to ending child labor is reflected in its ratification of the international conventions, adoption of national instruments and implementation of several policies geared towards eliminating child labor,” the report says.
“Despite these efforts and corresponding activities, the child labor phenomenon remains a concern in Cambodia,” it continues.
In order to effectively address child labor, the report recommends a focus on alleviating poverty, improving education and further surveys looking at areas where child labor is of particular concern.
“Child labor is most often the consequence of poverty within the household; an indirect policy to combat child labor could take the form of socioeconomic measures to alleviate poverty,” the report says in its recommendations.
“Because education is of prime importance in child development, increased access to education and improvement in the quality of education is required to make schooling more attractive than working.”
Following the press conference, Mr. Raychaudhuri said that the worst forms of child labor, such as prostitution, involvement in criminal activities and forced domestic servitude, were not represented in the report, and that it would require additional cooperation from the government to gauge the scale of these problems.
Maurizio Bussi, director of the ILO’s decent work technical support team for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said during the press conference that it was critical that the government continue to conduct similar surveys if it wants to tackle the problems highlighted by the report.
“The methodology is there. The instrumental capacity is there. The training has been done,” he said.
“The ILO encourages the government to do this regularly. Doing it once doesn’t make sense,” he added.