The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has urged all relevant departments to use the Criminal Code to prosecute brick kiln owners who use child labour. And the owner of a Kandal facility at which a young girl lost her arm will be among the first to face criminal charges.
Early last month, nine-year-old Chheng Srey Pheak suffered horrific injuries and lost her right arm to a machine in an accident, with the owner of the Kandal province brick factory originally only looking at a fine for employing someone under 15 years of age.
With the new directive, clay kiln owners using child labour could face imprisonment.
However, a human rights monitor said the ministry’s instructions will not be effective unless officials regularly inspect brick kilns.
The ministry’s guidance on prohibiting children from entering brick production sites, dated last Wednesday and obtained by The Post on Monday, said the use of child labour at brick factories should be treated as a criminal offence.
Brick kilns must display large and clearly visible signs instructing minors not to enter the facility, with owners who allow children onto their sites also to face criminal charges.
The use of debt slavery – an infringement on the freedom of workers – is to be rigorously prohibited and brick factory owners must be vigilant to ensure children do not enter their sites.
Brick kiln owners will have to organise accommodation for workers and their families far from the facility, which must be surrounded by fencing.
All forms of child exploitation and forcing minors to work to pay off debts is strictly banned.
The directive comes after the incident on March 9 at a factory in Khsach Kandal district’s Preah Prasap commune owned by Leang Srun.
Both the provincial director of the Department of Labour and provincial police said the girl had been helping her parents and had not been forced to work at the factory.
However, after a visit from inspection officials, the ministry decided to take legal action against Srun under Article 368 of the Labour Law where he faces a fine for employing someone under 15 years.
The criminal suit against Srun is for using child labour and failing to prevent minors from entering the site. The Post could not reach Peng Leang, the manager at Srun’s brick kilns, for comment on Monday.
Kandal provincial Labour Department director Thol Neang could also not be reached.
Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour told The Post briefly that he did not have figures for child victims of accidents at brick kilns. However, he warned that all owners who failed to comply with the ministry’s new instructions would face legal action.
“Owners will face action under the Labour Law and the Criminal Code,” Sour said.
Am Sam Ath, a monitor with human rights group Licadho, said his organisation had found that since 2002, five children working at brick factories had lost arms to machines in accidents, with one dying of their injuries.
Sam Ath said more children would suffer at brick kilns unless the ministry carries out regular inspections.
“Brick factory owners always deny using child labour and a lot of children play near these dangerous sites. Some are allowed by their parents to help them at work, but it is the responsibility of the owners to stop minors from entering and working at their factories.
“If the new instructions are just posted on the wall without regular inspections to ensure owners comply with them, brick kilns will remain highly dangerous places for children,” Sam Ath said.