The International Labor Organization (ILO) has urged the government to ratify the
ILO's Convention 182 that outlaws the worst forms of child labor. Recently released
figures show that around half the country's children aged between five and 17 are
involved in work.
The figure of two million working children was presented at a March 5 workshop, and
comes from the Cambodia Child Labor Survey 2001. That research was undertaken as
part of the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC).
The ILO's national manager for IPEC, Mar Sophea, said the objective of the survey
was to gather enough quantitative and qualitative data to help government and NGOs
to combat child labor.
"The survey was very important to allow us especially to study the worst forms
of child labor that need combating," Sophea said. "We found that most of
them don't go to school [and] that the numbers are about the same for boys and girls."
A lack of prior research meant it was impossible to tell whether or not the situation
Sophea said all the countries in the region bar Cambodia, Laos and Burma had ratified
the convention, which requires governments to take immediate action against the worst
forms of child labor.
Among those activities as defined under the convention are: slavery, prostitution,
the production or trafficking of illicit drugs, and any work which is likely to "harm
the health, safety or morals of children". The survey found that 1.5 million
Cambodian children between the ages of five and 14 have work of some kind.
Cambodia's Labor Code, which was adopted by the National Assembly in 1997, sets the
minimum age of employment at 15, although it does allow those aged 12 and above to
engage in light work which is not hazardous to their health or psychological development
and will not affect their school attendance.
Vong Sot, undersecretary of state of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational
Training and Youth Rehabilitation, told attendees that the government was eager to
understand the implications of ratifying the convention.
"[Employers] are exploiting working children, and that means there is a danger
to their health, both physical and mental," Sot said.
The ILO's Sophea said more than two-thirds of working children are employed in agricultural
activities, such as on rubber plantations or in fishing. Around 16 percent are involved
in wholesale or retail trade, 6 percent in manufacturing, and 2.3 percent in social
and personal services.
He added that lawmakers who had attended the workshop said they would encourage their
fellow legislators to approve the convention, but doubted that would happen soon
as the National Assembly is in recess until June and likely will not reconvene until
after July's general election.