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Help planned for child scavengers

Help planned for child scavengers

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) plans

to carry out a new survey on child scavengers at Phnom Penh's only official refuse

dump.

"Due to disturbing information about a larger number of children working in

Stung Mean Chey and reports that they are picking through medical waste, we will

start a new survey in a couple of months," said Tim Seaman of LICADHO.

The Stung Mean Chey dump covers eight hectares. There are neither fences nor check

points at the entrance, giving humans and animals equal opportunity to forage.

There could be up to 150 scavengers aged five to sixteen working at Phnom Penh's

dump, according to NGOs. There have also been recent reports of the presence of syringes,

needles, and plastic bags covered with blood at the dump site, raising the prospect

of the spread of infectious diseases.

LICADHO said that they would develop their project in cooperation with World Vision,

an NGO working with street children.

"There are numerous families working at the dump and even people living in it,"

explained Laurence Gray, World Vision manager of street children projects.

"Most of them come from the provinces and work there because no skills are needed."

Children working at the rubbish dump said that they can earn up to 3,000 Riels a

day by selling plastic bags, bottles, or cans to middlemen.

But the competition is harsh. "Sometimes we fight for the same piece of rubbish,"

said one child, eight-year-old Nin Vann. Sometimes they also have to compete with

dogs hunting for scraps of food.

Gray confirmed that the conditions under which the children scavengers were working

were alarming.

"Children can be injured by trucks and rubbish and they face a risk of infections

and diseases from cuts and injuries in this hazardous environment," he said.

The NGOs plan to build shelters at the dump for the children to rest in.

Further assistance, including efforts to get the kids into schools, is also planned.

Seaman said that the intention was not to stop the children from working, given that

many poor families relied upon their children to bring in money.

"[But] we want to stop occupations that are dangerous to them and we want them

to go to school."

Since LICADHO first did a survey on child workers at the dump in 1994, little has

been done to assist the youngsters.

"This time we are going to make clear recommendations to the government, NGOs,

and International Organizations so that they assist the children," said Seaman.

Mar Sophea, responsible for the child labor unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs,

said another study was planned by the Cham Khmer Islamic Association.

The International Program on Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) together with the

International Labor Organization (ILO) is currently conducting a national survey

on child labor in Cambodia. Sophea said that when the survey is ready in May - and

a memorandum of understanding is signed by the government - he hoped that NGOs and

other actors involved would start an program of action.

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