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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Minister vows to combat child labour, warns NGO

Young workers move bricks through a factory in Kandal’s Muk Kampoul district late last month.
Young workers move bricks through a factory in Kandal’s Muk Kampoul district late last month. Pha Lina

Minister vows to combat child labour, warns NGO

The Minister of Labour yesterday launched a new action plan to combat child labour in Cambodia, but in the same breath threatened an NGO – which shed new light on the debt bondage forcing children into work – with legal action if their report was false.

Licadho’s comprehensive study, released earlier this month, found that parents indebted to brick factory owners had their children work off debts, trapping them in “modern day slavery”.

But Minister Ith Samheng, at yesterday’s launch of the National Action Plan to Combat Child Labour 2016-2025, reiterated his criticism that the NGO should have notified the authorities, rather than releasing a report. “I hope next time it could be better. I think to create such a report is not for a constructive or good purpose. I think if the report is not accurate, [they] will be faced with legal procedures,” he said.

The ministry’s director of child labour, Veng Heang, said that between 1999 and 2015, the rate of child labour in the Kingdom decreased from 16.2 percent to 8.7 percent.

“By 2025, we want for all forms of child labour to be zero, but it is just our ambition – it is difficult, but we believe we can achieve it,” Heang said.

He said under the new plan – backed by a $10 million grant gifted to World Vision by the US – regular and random inspections would be carried out at the provincial level and 24 working groups had been trained to inspect worksites.

He added the government was investigating allegations of debt bondage, and said cases of employers exploiting child labour were “rare” and that it was “confusing” to determine if a child was forced to work in dangerous conditions or if they were simply playing at their parents’ worksites.

Licadho’s Naly Pilorge said there was a vast difference between permissible forms of child work and hard child labour, and that the government must monitor for violations. She added that debt bondage was also important to address.

“Children need to go to school, have access to physical and mental development and be protected from doing hazardous and dangerous work. Debt bondage should be eradicated and prosecuted,” she said.

The plan also aims to implement laws more effectively and crack down on industries like fishing, brick factories, agriculture and mining where children are illegally employed.

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