Lower fuel costs encourage families to enlist their youngest members in bringing cheap petrol into Cambodia at the expense of school
BAYAB, Svay Rieng province - Of the 100 primary school students in this village near the border with Vietnam, 60 have abandoned their studies for an unlikely youthful past time: petrol smuggling.
"I'm doing this to help my family because we are poor," said 13-year-old Chen Chav, who said he can make 3,000 riels hauling three litres of illegal fuel by bicycle over 8km of dirt track and rice fields to the main market in Svay Rieng town.
Fellow smuggler Nary, 14, said he has been secreting petrol from Vietnam for about six months.
"Because of this I have difficulty studying and always missed school. Now, I've quit my studies to do this business," she told the Post on Tuesday.
"If I don't do this, I don't have enough money to pay for food," she said, adding that it is better for children to engage in fuel smuggling because they are less likely to be stopped by authorities, who usually demand large bribes from adults.
"If my mother or father goes to take it from the border, police and customs officers will arrest them and take the petrol," she said.
Surging global oil prices have pushed the price of petrol in Cambodia to record highs of around 5,600 riels per litre, encouraging smuggling from Vietnam, where government subsidies have kept fuel costs lower.
In the small villages dotting the border like Bayab, children have become the most likely mules, commune chief Nhoung Yenu said.
"More and more, the children have stopped going to school," he told the Post. Now we're going to have to persuade their families to encourage these kids to study."
District Governor Uy Han said the problem of truancy was worsening, with parents often pushing their children into smuggling to supplement the family's income.
"We are trying to educate these families to stop their sons and daughters from smuggling petrol from the border and allow them to go to school," he said.