But state power company pays $1,500 to family of 13-year-old amid claims he was smothered while working at construction site
MEN Chanpong, a 13-year-old schoolboy, was buried at a construction site of the state-owned electric company Friday. He was pulled from the bottom of a hole in a construction site operated by Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) after a bulldozer at the Phnom Penh site pushed landfill over him. The company denies responsibility.
"We never hire boys. We will find out the facts of the case from eyewitnesses. I think the boy may have been murdered and buried in our hole in order to assign blame to us," said Chea Sunhel, the director of the supply department at the EdC. He added that the company had given the family of the deceased $1,500.
The driver of the bulldozer immediately fled the scene, Chea Sunhel said. Police are looking for him.
Khan Sopheak, 22, a village assistant in Lorkambor, the area where the accident happened, said the boy worked for the electric company four hours a day when not attending school. On Friday, he did not come home after work, prompting his parents to set out to find him.
Schoolmates of the deceased boy told his parents they had seen the boy at the bottom of the hole, and the parents with the help of other villagers demanded that EdC investigate. To the horror of those present, electric company workers unearthed the body of Men Chanpong, Khan Sopheak said.
The director general at the Department of Construction, Im Chamrong, said Monday he had just learned of the tragedy but promised that he and other construction experts would look into the case today, saying that hiring workers younger than 18 violates the labour law.
Sok Sovandeith, the president of the Cambodia National Federation of Building and Wood Workers, said the EdC should not be hiring 13-year-olds.
"Although there is a construction worker shortage, they must not hire labourers if it violates the labour law," he said.
Alonzo Suson, country program director at the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said a lack of regulation and experience has created unsafe conditions.
"Construction has never been closely regulated. It's not very unionised, and with so many subcontractors it's difficult to monitor.
"One problem is a lack of training. You don't have a whole crew that has been doing construction for a long time. You don't have a stable workforce that knows to demand safety," he said.