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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - It’s time to put an end to ‘hidden’ child labour

It’s time to put an end to ‘hidden’ child labour

16 child labour riverside Hong menea

Today, June 12, marks the World Day Against Child Labour. Today we say loud and clear “NO to child labour in domestic work”.

The theme of this global campaign is both timely and relevant to all of us, especially in Asia, which is home to nearly half of all domestic workers worldwide.

With more than 15 million children under 18 around the globe “hidden” in domestic work, turning a blind eye to their plight can no longer be tolerated.

Most of these children are girls and nearly half work under extremely hazardous conditions in paid or unpaid work in households other than their own.

Domestic work is adult work, and is simply not suitable for children. Hidden in plain sight, it requires a profound shift in societal attitudes and action so that children can enjoy their fundamental and universal rights to education, health and protection and can be better prepared for decent work as adults.

It is illegal for children under 15 to work in Cambodia, and for good reason.  

Studies and testimonies repeatedly note that child labour in domestic work comes at the expense of a child’s education.

It affects children’s health with its long and irregular working hours, unsuitable living conditions, use of dangerous household appliances and equipment, carrying heavy loads and caring for the sick.

It affects their emotional well-being as they are isolated from their family and peers, in some cases subject to verbal and physical abuse, confined and dependent on their employers.

It affects their ability to enjoy decent work as adults as a childhood of exploitation and abuse perpetuates an horrific cycle of poverty and deprivation that is impossible to break.

Domestic workers’ rights and the elimination of child labour are issues the ILO has worked on tirelessly for decades.

Last year saw the passage of a landmark ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (No 189) which recognises the rights of domestic workers (like any other workers) and the protection of young workers allowed by law to work.

While Cambodia is yet to ratify ILO Convention 189, it has taken some positive steps towards the elimination of child labour, establishing a minimum age of 15 for entry into employment.

Furthermore, in its National Plan of Action on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, it has included child domestic labour as one of 13 unacceptable and hazardous forms of work from which children must be removed with urgency.  

The trouble is, child domestic labour is often simply not “seen” as illegal, or for the negative consequences it has for a child and society.

On World Day against Child Labour 2013 let us all play a part, starting with recognising child domestic labour as a hidden form of child abuse and exploitation that must not be tolerated.

It is time to multiply efforts and encourage the reform of laws and policies to ensure the elimination of child labour in domestic work and decent, protected working conditions for young domestic workers who have reached the legal working age.  

It is time to put an end to the intolerable. We all have as members of society a moral imperative and a collective responsibility to support the campaign for the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention No 189 on decent work for domestic workers, along with the ILO’s child labour conventions.  

Let us take action so that child domestic labour is no longer hidden in plain sight.

Maurizio Bussi is the Director of the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He is also responsible for the ILO’s activities in Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR.

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