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Analysis: A Kingdom free of child labour

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Two Cambodian boys sell garlands at Kandal Market in downtown Phnom Penh yesterday.

On 12 June, Cambodia along with the rest of the world will focus attention on an issue which has for years stunted the economic, social and humanitarian potential of many nations. On that day, Child Labour will take centre stage as the world observes the World Day Against Child Labour 2011 and advocates for immediately ending its worst forms.

The theme of this year’s World Day is on the need to tackle hazardous work of children, work that is likely to harm children’s health, safety or morals, and which makes up more than 90 percent of Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL). The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) most recent global estimate is that 115 million children are involved in the WFCL.

Here at home, Cambodia is pledged to end the WFCL by the end of the year 2016, thereby becoming one of the very first countries to accept this global goal of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and be a model for other countries in the region. The Royal Government of Cambodia has identified 16 types of child labour including brick making, fishing, salt production, work in rubber plantation, construction, scavenging, etc. as hazardous to children below 18 and it intends to remove the over 310,000 children estimated (in 2008) to be working in them.

The country has undertaken a combination of model interventions to do so – starting with listing children who work in the hazardous sectors and counselling their parents, creating consensus to remove their children from work and sending them to school or to non-formal bridge courses or in the case of older children to vocational skills training, and providing parents with livelihood opportunities.

I have been working on child labour in Cambodia for six years now and I can realistically say that if the present pace of work continues, Cambodia can end the worst forms of child labour by 2016. Already we are seeing remarkable declining trends of child labour. In Kep province in 2008, a study found 2000 children working in the worst forms of child labour. In December 2010 however this number was
found to have been reduced to 400. In 2008 there were 2000 children working in the salt industry in the Kampot province, but by December 2010 this number had decreased to around 250 children. Similar results are reported from Banteay Meanchay. Kep province is poised to be the first child labour free province in Cambodia by June 2012 and the salt sector in the country will be completely free of child labour by December 2012.

These efforts are transforming the lives of numerous children in the country. But real change will happen only when each of us as individuals can make the responsible decision to take a stand against child labour. In the long term not actively discoursing child labour is a cruel act which keeps them out of school, impacts their health, sustains their poverty and hampers their future economic progress.  

Other challenges remain. If Cambodia’s efforts to end the WFCL by 2016 are to bear fruition, there is need for an additional investment of about a US$100 million on child labour over the next five and half years. Peanuts really! However the reality is that apart from the United States Department of Labour, there are very few other donors supporting Cambodia’s efforts on child labour. The donor community and development agencies in Cambodia need to invest in efforts to end child labour, funding child labour elimination programmes and projects of the Government, NGOs, Civil Society etc in the country.

Lest we forget. Child labourers are among the most vulnerable groups in our society. They cannot fight for their own rights and they do not have access to the media to tell their stories. When they do speak up, they are often ignored or punished. If Cambodia is to realise its dreams of becoming a developed nation, it is paramount that our commitment in wiping out child labour continues. The ILO is working towards a Cambodia where the only job a child has to do is being a child, the only work a child has to take on is school work and where a child’s education always comes first.

They call Cambodia, a Kingdom of Wonder.

Let us make it a Kingdom without Child Labour.

Joseph Menacherry (MP Joseph) is the Chief Technical Adviser of the International Labour Organisation’s International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).

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