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A young child fills a customer’s fuel tank with petrol yesterday in Phnom Penh
A young child fills a customer’s fuel tank with petrol yesterday in Phnom Penh. Vireak Mai

Child labourer injuries rife

Over 85 per cent of child domestic workers in Phnom Penh are injured in the course of their employment, research into child labour released yesterday revealed.

The Cambodian Development Research Institute and World Vision International are jointly examining child labour practices in the Kingdom, and the preliminary findings of their four-year study indicate an under-regulated and ill-defined employment sector that is exposing minors to abusive and hazardous conditions.

Roughly 10 per cent of Cambodian children age 5 to 17 work, according to government estimates, but so far, there has been little investigation into the extent of the problem in the various sectors employing youth.

“Children in rural areas are more likely to fall into the child labour trap than children in the cities, and most of the children working are engaged in agricultural work,” said Phann Dalis, a research associate at CDRI and contributor to the project’s subtopic on landlessness and child labour.

Though smaller in number than the agriculture youth workforce, some 28,000 youth are estimated to labour in the domestic sector, 10 per cent of whom are employed in Phnom Penh.

Nearly 85 per cent of the 441 Phnom Penh households interviewed for the study said they had hired a child, though most (87 per cent) added that they would not allow their own children to work.

Minors as young as 12 are permitted to work in Cambodia provided that the job is “light”, does not prevent getting an education and does not have hazardous conditions.

But with a lack of regulations within the industry, the kinds of employment appropriate for children remain contentious.

Cambodia’s child workers are typically not under any formal contract, making them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and poor working conditions.

“Cambodia needs to have [sector]-specific guidelines delineating the kind of work and number of hours that are acceptable,” said Imelda Ochavilla, project coordinator at World Vision.

“Without specific definitions, enforcement against exploitation is tricky; employers can claim they were doing nothing wrong by the law.”

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