Children working in salt fields, rubber plantations, and the fishing and sex industries will be rescued and returned to school, with the help of a $1 million grant pledged by the US government Thursday to tackle child labor.
“Our challenge is clear—first, to prevent child labor and second, where it’s already too late, remove children from exploitative working situations and place them in classrooms,” Andrew Samet, deputy undersecretary of the US Department of Labor, said at a press conference announcing the grant.
The announcement was made during the last day of an International Labor Organization regional seminar in Phnom Penh, which drew more than 80 representatives from 23 countries in Asia and the Pacific.
A 1996 ILO survey estimated that about 10 percent of children in Cambodia between 5 and 14 years old were in the labor force. About three-fourths of those were unable to attend school.
Another survey found that child labor especially is an issue in rural areas, where children are traditionally asked to help their parents make a living. In Kampot’s salt fields, for example, an estimated 1,500 children are involved in hard labor, officials said.
“We must rescue those children from these sectors,” Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said of child exploitation.
He said the ministry along with ILO technical advisers will make a detailed action plan early next year.
The project will begin with a national child labor survey to assess the situation and develop strategies, he said.
“Child labor is destroying children’s futures,” Ith Sam Heng said. “We have to educate people to understand how important education is for children.”
The grant is part of a $30 million program approved by the US Congress in the 1999 fiscal year to help eliminate abusive child labor around the globe. Another $30 million has been budgeted for 2000, according to the US Embassy.
ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor has been operating in Cambodia since 1996, supporting government projects to get children back to school.