Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian children walk for those who work

Cambodian children walk for those who work

Cambodian children walk for those who work

CAMBODIA last week played host to a trans-Asia march designed to raise awareness

about the prevalence of child labor worldwide.

The Cambodian portion of the march, which participants deemed a great success, was

coordinated with the help of a committee made up of Khmer children concerned about

children's rights.

"I want[ed] to join the Global March because I would like to share the situation

of children in Cambodia, and I would like to understand [the situations] from each

country," said 16-year-old marcher and committee president Peng Sokunthea.

Forty-seven core marchers, including Sokunthea and two other Cambodians, have been

journeying from Manila in the Philippines en route to Geneva in Switzerland to highlight

the problem of child labor.

In Cambodia, they were joined by children and activists in Svay Rieng, Prey Veng,

Phnom Penh, Kampong Som and Koh Kong. In Phnom Penh, the marchers - including one

elephant - held up traffic along Norodom Boulevard as they made their chanting, banner-waving

way into the city Feb 1.

"It was great. We were expecting 400 people, but there were many more than

that," said Sebastien Marot, of the NGO Friends.

His is one of the of 22 NGOs making up the NGO Committee for Children's Rights, which

coordinated the march alongside its children's committee.

For the children's committee members, the march has special significance.

"As we are Cambodian and these children [child laborers] are Cambodian too,

we would like them to be entitled to their rights," said Kann Sophal, 17, the

children's committee deputy.

"Especially their right to education," added Em Chanmakara, 14, the committee's

general secretary.

The committee has been meeting every Sunday since 1995. In that time they have produced

a TV program on children's rights, organized events for International Children's

Day and conducted study tours of areas where child labor is pervasive.

Sophal said his interest in the issue arose out of bitter experience with his stepmother.

"She ordered me to do everything... I had no time to go to school, I was working

as a domestic servant," he said.

He escaped by coming to visit his brother, a monk in Phnom Penh, and never returned

home. He joined the children's committee, at the invitation of the NGO Committee,

when it was formed in 1995.

Chanmakara, also a founding member, explained his own involvement in the cause: "One

day my mother [who works for the Urban Sector Group, a social-welfare NGO] invited

me to attend a workshop on children's rights, and I was interested in that because

many of my friends were always working and not allowed to go to school."

An estimated 16% of children aged 5-17 are classified as child laborers in Cambodia,

according to International Labor Organization statistics.

Sokunthea, Sophal, Chanmakara and the rest of the seven-member committee took part

in all of the Cambodian activities - including speeches, street theater, and workshops

in child labor-plagued areas - during the week.

When they meet child workers, marchers talk to them and try to get their message

across. "We try to ask them questions concerning their work... and we officially

inform them about the Global March," Sokunthea said. "We ask them if they

need help, how can we help them... we are here and everyone must work against child

labor."

Marchers on the Asian section of the campaign are traveling through the Philippines,

Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran and

Turkey. Participants are not actually walking the entire distance but only through

areas where they wish to highlight child labor problems.

"The attention the march has received [in Cambodia] has been beyond our expectations.

The involvement of the community, the government and the media has been enormous,"

said a happy Kailash Satyarthi, the march's international coordinator. The march

left for Thailand on Feb 7.

Marches on a similar scale will take place in Latin American and Africa. They will

all meet up in Geneva in June where a new convention on child labor will be drafted.

While Sokunthea and her fellow marchers cannot march all the way due to lack of money,

they will fly to Geneva for the drafting, according to Marot. He added that at least

one Cambodian would be marching at all times.

"We want the international community to get this information and give it to

other countries," Chanmakara said. "In Cambodia, lots of kids work."

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