Child labour in Cambodia

Child labour in Cambodia


Child labour in Cambodia

Child labour refers to the full-time employment of children under a minimum legal age. In Cambodia, the state had ratified both the Minimum Age Convention (C138) [1] in 1999 and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (C182) in 2006, which are adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). For the former convention, Cambodia had specified the minimum age to work to be at age 14.[2]

Yet, significant levels of child labour appear to be found in Cambodia. In 1998, ILO estimated that 24.1% of children in Cambodia aged between 10 and 14 were economically active. [1] Many of these children work long hours and Cambodia Human Development Report 2000 reported that approximately 65,000 children between the ages of 5 to 13 worked 25 hours a week and did not attend school. [2]

There is a need to eliminate child labour in Cambodia as a report by UNICEF states that child labourers could be missing out on education. When children do not attend school, they are denied the knowledge and skills needed for national development. [3] Without education and vital life skills, they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, which may exacerbate the existing cycle of poverty in their families. Consequently, this lack in productivity due to lack of education will hold back economic growth in Cambodia.[4]

Situation of Child Labour in Cambodia

It is believed that Cambodia’s economic growth and progress is a contributing factor to the increasing number of child labourers. The huge demands of the construction industry is one example where it has pushed children to work in factories or brick kilns, foreclosing the option of school education for most of them.[5]

In 2003, an ILO survey reported that one in every ten children in the capital above the age of seven was engaged in child domestic labour.[6] Children who are too young to work in the fields work as scavengers. They spend their days rummaging in dumps looking for items that can be sold for money.[7]

Others spend their days in the streets peddling. Tourists play a key role in this form of child labour as many are willing to buy from these children, out of good intentions, escalating demands. This reinforces the notion that children are more valuable in the streets than at school. However, there are also arguments that it might be better to buy from child sellers or they might be forced to work in even more hazardous activities.[8]

A common ramification of child labour is denied access to basic services, namely education and healthcare. The Children’s Rights Department of the Cambodian League for Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) survey showed that out of 400 children aged 5 to 17 who worked as garbage dump scavengers only 35% went to school. [3]

Child labourers also suffer from health problems. For instance, carrying excessive loads may cause stunt development. There is the possibility of child scavengers made injured by sharp, contaminated objects or moving traffic. Other problems include long hours of work, respiratory and skin diseases, life-threatening tetanus, joint and bone deformities.[9]

The economic and societal impacts are far reaching, hence raising awareness and efforts to prohibit child labour are important.

Efforts to reduce child labour

The Cambodian government is working together with NGOs and UN agencies to tackle the problem of child labour. One of the major donors is the U.S Department of Labour. Since 2001, the department has funded ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour to provide education and other services to children engaged, or are at risk of engaging in exploitive labour.[10]

There has been some progress in Cambodia. In 2008 there were 2000 children working in the salt industry in the Kampot province. By 2010 it has decreased to around 250 children.[11]

One of the NGO,Child’s Dream, has also been raising awareness of the cases of child exploitation in Cambodia.

Child’s Dream

Child’s Dream was first established by Marc Thomas Jenni and Daniel Marco Siegfried in October 2003 under the Swiss law as a charitable, non-profit organization dedicated to provide help to marginalized children and youth in the Mekong Sub-Region which includes Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Its current headquarter is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.[12]

There is concern for children in the Mekong Sub-Region as they face many human rights abuses and various forms of exploitation resulted from specific-country problems. Thus, Child’s Dream aims to work closely with these disadvantaged village communities, to bring about sustained social and economic development through improving the health and education situations of these children who are worst affected by these problems.

Guided by its mission of empowering marginalized communities, Child’s Dream launched various humanitarian projects to address these needs in the most efficient and effective way. One of its focuses is health. It has health intervention programmes ranging from Malaria control to basic health intervention such as immunization, de-worming and provision of doses of Vitamin A that aim to reduce childhood mortality, therefore allowing these children to participate in pursuing education.

On top of that, it also has education programmes such as building of schools that aims to offer basic education for all children in order to improve their literacy level, create alternatives to exploitation and empower them to shape their own future. These activities and projects are carried out through the help of its sister organization, diversethics Foundation that was established in 2006.

One successful project carried out by Child’s Dream was the Damnok Toek Reception & Day Care Centre which is located in Banteay Meanchey province, Cambodia. According to an article by Lin Zixin in[13], there is an increase in economic burden faced by Cambodian families and this is reflected in the drastic rise of school dropouts in recent years. A survey was conducted and it was found out that out of a sample group of 246 children and youth aged between 10 and 14, 31.7 percent of them were already working. This problem is also common in Cambodia as a whole.

This particular project has helped improved the facilities in Banteay Meanchey province by providing a 24 hour drop-in center for street children, a rehabilitation centre for substance abusing children, a reception centre for trafficked children, a residential centre for children who cannot reintegrate and a day care centre that offers non-formal education to these neglected children. 114 children has benefitted from this project.

Child’s Dream has since undertaken more than one hundred over projects and it still has ongoing and upcoming projects that aim to improve the overall welfare of the children in Cambodia. At the same time, it strongly encourages the public for their kind donations in support of these health and education programmes for these underprivileged children.


  1. ^ World Development Indicators 2000
  2. ^ Cambodia Human Development Report 2000
  3. ^ "Child Labor Affect Human Capital Development". Retrieved 15 Sep 2011. 
  4. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia(VOA News)". Retrieved 14 Sep 2011. 
  5. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia-A New Direction". Retrieved 14 Sep 2011. 
  6. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia-A New Direction". Retrieved 14 Sep 2011. 
  7. ^ "Cambodia's Culture of Child Labour". Retrieved 14 Sep 2011. 
  8. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia". Retrieved 16 Sep 2011. 
  9. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia". Retrieved 16 Sep 2011. 
  10. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia(VOA News)". Retrieved 14 Sep 2011. 
  11. ^ "Child Labour in Cambodia". Retrieved 16 Sep 2011. 
  12. ^ "Child's Dream". Retrieved 11Sep 2011. 
  13. ^ "Cambodia-Thailand:At the Border, Life on the Edge". Retrieved 20Sep 2011. 

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