At the age of 11, with his father dead and his mother ill, Chan Makara was forced to support his family.
For a year, he worked as a porter at the train station in Phnom Penh, carrying boxes and baggage from the station to people’s homes or businesses for a few hundred riel. At night, he said, he would sleep on top of the trains, sometimes falling off. He quit his job only when his mother died and he lived on the street begging until an NGO brought him to a center for street children.
Chan Makara recalled his experiences at a press conference Friday, two days after returning from the Global March Against Child Labor—a journey that took him across Asia trying to raise awareness about the problem of child labor. He found that he was not alone in being forced to work to survive.
Along with 16-year-old Peng Sokunthea, Chan Makara represented Cambodia in the march, which took them through 13 nations before arriving in Geneva, Switzerland, for a conference on child labor.
Now 17, he said he would like to become an engineer, but he also wants to continue to work towards ending the worldwide problem of child labor.
“[The trip] made me very concerned about this,” he said. “Children are the future of the nation.”
Peng Sokunthea, a student, said she was appalled by conditions in Pakistan and Indian, where children worked in many industries, including prostitution and in rug manufacturing.
“We see the problem, so let’s stop it,” Peng Sokunthea said.
According to statistics from the International Labor Organization, there are more than 250 million children working in the world.
In Cambodia, more than 600,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 are believed to be working, according to a 1996 report from the group.
Figures compiled by the National Institute of Statistics last year show half of all children in Phnom Penh are working.
The International Labor Organization’s national program director, Mar Sophear, said that following the elections, his organization hopes to complete a survey on which specific industries that use child labor.