On the occasion of World Day Against Child Labor, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) released a two-part digital photo essay series highlighting links between child labor and issues such as poverty, school dropout rates and land eviction. LICADHO is urging authorities to end the root causes of child labor.
Child labor threatens the fundamental rights of children to survive with dignity, develop intellectually and physically, be protected from abuse, and participate in his/her community. Child laborers work in a variety of areas: domestic work, garment factories, garbage collecting, fishing, agriculture, brick factories, and construction, among others.
While some forms of child labor are more hazardous, most require children to work long hours that could be spent at school and nurturing relationships with peers, teachers and family. Many child domestic workers, for example, start working very early and end late at night. Since their work takes place behind closed doors, it is difficult for authorities and NGOs to monitor and safeguard their well-being.
Here are two stories of Cambodian children who are victims of child labor:
Out of School and Working: The Story of an Evicted Girl
In late 2006 and early 2007, Kompieng’s family was one of 51 families evicted by authorities from O Tres commune, Preah Sihanouk province, during a land dispute with a company and a private landowner. Many of the families claimed that they had been living at O Tres commune since 1993. Kompieng’s family relocated two kilometers away after they were evicted. However, her parents’ sudden loss of livelihoods, the high cost of transportation, and her mother’s ailing health pressured Kompieng to drop out of school and start doing odd jobs to help support her family. She dreams of finishing school and improving her life.
Too Young to Work: The Life of a Former Shoe Factory Worker
Prum Dina, 14, dropped out of school when she was 12 to work at a shoe factory. She was later dismissed for being too young, but only after she had been working for over a year. In the shoe factory, Prum Dina was exposed to harmful conditions. Her responsibilities included handling glue, making leather, and sewing. She now attends school and is studying to be a Chinese translator. She hopes to work as a translator at the same factory so that she can earn a high salary and help pay for her mother’s medical treatment. A 2013 ILO survey found that about 48 percent of child laborers in Cambodia, including those working in hazardous conditions, have dropped out of, or have never attended, school.
Child Labor A Symptom of Broader Societal Problems
In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that there were 755,245 working children in Cambodia. Of this number, 429,380 (56.9 percent) classified as child laborers, while 236,498 (31.3 percent) worked in hazardous conditions, where they were exposed to harmful chemical substances or tools.
In cases where children work in hazardous conditions, there is a high risk of work-related injuries from dangerous machinery or chemical substances.
The high number of child laborers, especially those working in hazardous conditions, is a clear breach of Cambodia’s Labor Law that prohibits anyone younger than 18 years old from working in hazardous conditions, LICADHO says. Without proper implementation and enforcement, authorities allow companies and employers to exploit children without facing legal consequences.
“Child labor not only exploits children, but is itself a symptom of broader societal problems,” LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge says. “Specifically, authorities remain slow to implement and enforce labor-related laws and regulations. This has to change.”
Parents also bear responsibility for promoting child labor practice. In some households, parents adhere to traditional customs that require children to share the burden of supporting the family. As such, they do not consider it wrong when children drop out of school to work. In other cases, parents overwhelmed by poverty, unemployment, debt, health issues, and other unforeseen crises, believe that they have no choice but to ask their children to find a job to help support their family.
Child Laborers Vulnerable to Many Kinds of Abuse
Even in less hazardous working conditions, child laborers are vulnerable to physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse by older employers and co-workers. However child laborers are often unaware of their legal rights and may fear that the courts will penalize them for illegal labor rather than address the criminal complaint. They may also be unable or daunted by the process of filing a legal complaint against their abusers which requires a legal guardian to act on their behalf.
Cambodia’s high rate of land eviction also directly perpetuates child labor. Since 2000, LICADHO estimates that at least 500,000 people in roughly half the country have been affected by state-involved land conflicts. Many children from evicted families drop out of school because of inadequate facilities at their relocation site. Others start working because their parents need help earning money after losing their former livelihoods.
LICADHO urges authorities to focus on eradicating types of child labor and also to address its underlying causes. Specifically, the organization calls for the Cambodian authorities to improve labor inspections to ensure that there are no children under 18 working in hazardous conditions, or beyond the hours appropriate for their age, as outlined by the ILO. Authorities should also severely penalize employers who exploit child labor. They must also review the current labor-related laws and regulations to guarantee that all types of child laborers are protected.
Additionally, they say that there must be an end to illegal evictions that disrupt the livelihood of families, and result in children dropping out of school to find work. Ensuring that evicted families are fairly compensated, and that relocation sites include access to adequate schools and health centers for affected children is critical.
“Eradicating child labor and its root causes is not just an issue of child rights,” Child Rights Coordinator Kong Socheat says. “If many children continue to drop out of school and work, Cambodia’s long-term social and economic development will be jeopardized. Child labor practices can only continue to the extent that authorities, employers, parents, children and communities continue to believe that it is not an urgent issue, and even justifiable on grounds of profit, poverty and traditional customs.”
A Day of Action
The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labor in 2002 to focus attention on the global extent of child labor and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. Each year on June 12th, the World Day brings together governments, employers and workers’ organizations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world to highlight the plight of child laborers and what can be done to help them.
Around the world, large numbers of children are engaged in paid or unpaid domestic work in the home of a third party or employer. These children can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Their work is often hidden from the public eye, they may be isolated, and they may be working far away from their family home. Stories of the abuse of children in domestic work are all too common.
World Day 2014 calls for action to introduce, improve and extend social protection, in line with the ILO Recommendation No. 202 on social protection floors; national social security systems that are sensitive to children’s needs and help fighting child labor; and social protection that reaches out to especially vulnerable groups of children.
“Family poverty and income shocks are often catalysts of child labor. It is time to break this cycle and ensure that families living in poverty have adequate incomes, income security and health care. These social protection measures can help households weather shocks and keep their children in school and out of child labor,” says Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General.