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Child labour drains Kingdom

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Sol Saly, 16, processes fish into prahok along the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh in January.

Child labour was draining the Kingdom’s brainpower and adversely affecting 750,000 of its children, officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said yesterday.

Speaking at a three-day conference on child agricultural labour, Kaing Khim, deputy director-general of fisheries administration at the MAFF, said budget constraints were a significant hurdle to addressing the issue.

“We still lack funds  . . . because the state budget that we receive is still low and we cannot do what we do in time. That’s why we look for additional funding from partner NGOs,” she said.

Kaing Khim estimated that, as a starting point, the ministry needed between US$50,000 and $100,000 to cover expenses for officials to travel to the provinces to investigate child labour violations and educate families about the negative effects of using their children as labourers.

Roughly 1.5 million Cambodian children are “economically active”, according to Veng Heang, director of the child labour department at the Ministry of Labour.

This means they contribute to the economy in some way through either “permitted” or “non-permitted” work.

Of this total, approximately half were child labourers – children younger than 16 who spend most of their day working rather than attending school, Veng Heang said.

A majority of them – between 400,000 and 500,000 – are involved in the agricultural sector, which includes both fishing and farming.

This is the population the ministry hopes to target. It aims to reduce that number to fewer than 300,000 by 2019.

Kheang Kim said children were “a very important resource” that should be in school rather than working.

“We will lose this human resource if those children cannot get knowledge,” she said.

Most child labourers worked in the non-commercial sector, Veng Heang said, so raising awareness among families about the importance of children’s education was vital.

“We will announce to families when it is suitable for children to work and what kind of work they can do,” Kaing Khim said.

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