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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Recession threatens families

Recession threatens families

Fourteen-year-old bookseller Vichet waits for customers along the riveside on Tuesday.

Layoffs among parents augur a rise in child labour: experts.

A STEEP decline in Cambodia's garment exports for the month of July has forced officials to reassess the strength of the global economic downturn and its impact on the country, as child welfare experts warn that the Kingdom's most vulnerable citizens - its children - may have the most to lose.

Official figures released Tuesday showed a 26.4 percent plunge in garment exports for July compared with a year ago and a 17.5 percent slide from June, - the latest in a series of grim economic indicators that prompted an admission by the head of the Cambodian Economic Association that the worst of the crisis could still be ahead.

Standing in the path of that slide, says Bill Salter, head of the International Labour Organisation's subregional office in East Asia, are Cambodia's children.

"The trend threatens to push 200,000 people back into poverty and erect new financial obstacles in front of children trying to access education,"
Salter said Tuesday during the launch of a national workshop studying the impact of the global economic crisis on child labour.

An estimated 40 percent of children aged between 7 and 17 years are currently engaged in some form of child labour, the group ChildFund Australia said in June.

Child labour rising
ILO officials said earlier this year that the number of children working in hard-labour conditions in Cambodia had grown from an estimated 250,000 in 2002 to about 300,000 this year.

The government has acknowledged the risks facing children, especially as families dependent on the garment sector - the Kingdom's largest industrial employer - suffer job losses or salary cuts that could prompt them to pull children out of school and into the workforce.

Cambodia's garment sector, which accounts for about 90 percent of the Kingdom's total exports, has borne the brunt of an economic downturn that can be linked directly to the rising numbers of children being forced into work, the ILO's Salter said, as cash-strapped families increasingly view education as a financial burden.

Veng Heang, director of the Department of Child Labour within the Ministry of Labour, said the link between the global crisis and child labour was no surprise.

"We knew that the economic crisis would impact children," he said Tuesday, adding that a rise in instances of child begging, scavenging and domestic labour would not be unexpected.

Warnings over deteriorating child welfare came amid protests by thousands in the garment sector over slashed pay.

More than 70,000 garment workers have been laid off since the crisis began, industry analysts say, with another 100,000 under threat in the next two years.

Nearly 3,000 employees at the Sky High Garment Factory in Daun Penh district went on strike on Monday to protest drops in their salaries, inadequate working conditions and unexpected work stoppages.

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