Heng Channy, 37, who was trained by Philimore Cambodia, says she is much better off after working two years in Malaysia as a maid. "I can save money and support my children at college. I will return next time for 4-6 years."
A frightened 15-year-old girl sits in a local NGO office in Phnom Penh.
She claims to have narrowly escaped from becoming a victim of child labor trafficking
The girl, who asked not to be identified, says she was taken from her family home
against her will last August when her family were tricked into signing documents,
binding her to work for the Philimore Cambodia Co, Ltd.
She says she was promised $120 per month for working as a maid in Malaysia but instead,
she was kept locked in a training room for two months, not allowed family visits,
nor even to go outside.
Philimore denies all the allegations and maintains it is a responsible company that
does not exploit child labor.
Since the girl returned to her family, Philimore representative Keo Phally has lodged
a complaint with the local authority and is demanding her parents repay $200 to cover
the cost of processing the documents which would have allowed her to work in Malaysia.
The girl says she was cheated into working in Malaysia and therefore doesn't owe
Philimore any money.
The girl said the company persuaded her father to sign documents he didn't understand.
She said Keo Phally then took her from the village without telling the village chief
or any other local authority.
She said she was then locked in a room for two months with other workers, many also
underage, for a "training period". She said she felt very afraid and wanted
to escape. "I ate food, slept and studied English in one room with the other
workers," she said.
During her time at the company the girl was not allowed leave to visit her family
without being able to guarantee her return.
"The company said that if I wanted to go out or visit my family, I must have
precious things to leave behind as security and I also must have two or three persons
to guarantee me."
She could not meet those conditions so the company didn't let her visit her family.
The girl said she eventually ran away by pretending she didn't want to escape and
then asking to go to the market. She was allowed to go but the company sent two or
three persons to observe her.
"Fortunately, the company's spies could not catch me. I ran very fast to get
a motor taxi to Chak Angre Krom pagoda and three days later I found my family,"
Chhour Vichet , operations manager for Philimore Cambodia, defended his company's
He said his company has never had a case of employing underage girls to work in Malaysia
because Philimore always requires proof from parents and local authorities to show
that the girls are old enough to work. He added that sometimes the company made an
exception and only needed the documentation from their parents clarifying their children's
He said if he finds out his company's representatives persuade workers to lie about
their ages, he will quickly fire them.
But in its filed complaint, the company said the girl was 18 not 15. A medical report
of Occupational Health Department Cambodia recorded the girl's age as 25, as stated
in her passport.
The girl said Keo Phally told her to say she was 18 years old, that "if you
say you are 15, the company won't employ you."
Vichet said the company does allow workers to visit their families and has never
forced the workers to leave their valuables before they go, but workers have to have
someone else guarantee that they will return.
"They are all women, so it's too dangerous for them," he said. "If
we allow them to go outside freely, they can meet problems. The company has to be
responsible. If something happens to them, their parents will come and blame the
company, so we have to be careful about that."
Vichet said the company has sent 787 women workers to Malaysia and another 119 workers
are being trained. "At least 90 percent of the workers who go to Malaysia want
to go back and so far there are more than 70 workers who have returned to work there.
Many workers appear to be satisfied with their work overseas.
A 25-year-old maid Srey Soaphea trained by Philimore said she worked in Malaysia
for a two year contract and she is going to return. "I don't want to work in
Cambodia because I get paid so low that I cannot make my family's living."
Heng Channy, 37, said she worked in Cambodia as a cook for eight years and her standard
of living was very poor. She says she is much better off after working two years
in Malaysia as a maid. "I will return next time for 4-6 years. I can save money
and support my children at college."
Both Soaphea and Channy said they were paid $120 per month, and had to pay the company
back four months' pay for training and other expenses.
Vichet said that about 74 workers had left because they were not confident in the
company or their mothers came to take them.
He said that according to the law the company had the right to demand money back
from the families who withdrew the girls from the training program. "The company
pays all their expenses, such as documents, food, and passport. When girls run away
the company loses a lot of money."
He said Philimore did make exceptions if a family was clearly very poor and unable
to pay their debts but in this case the company does not appear willing to drop the
The girl said Keo Phally told her family that they would not win the case because
Philimore had Prime Minister Hun Sen on their side.
She said her parents replied that Philimore "could have Hun Sen and his father
on your side but we still are not afraid because we know that Hun Sen does not support
the trafficking of Cambodian children into Malaysia."
Yet the girl said she is very concerned that her family does not have the $200 demanded
from them. "I am afraid that the company will take me back to work in Malaysia."
The Ministry of Social Affairs issued a warning last month to Cambodians to be careful
when offered work abroad.
In a January 14 report entitled 'Seeking a job abroad', the Minister of Social Affairs
Ith Sam Heng said the ministry has found that there are people who are cheating Cambodian
citizens to work abroad illegally.
He said Cambodians wanting to work abroad should go through the four private companies
licensed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth
Rehabilitation (MOSALVY) to send workers abroad. Philimore is one of them.
Heng defended the benefits of working abroad because of higher salaries and career
opportunities and language improvement Since 1998, over 3000 workers have been legally
employed to work abroad, according to the Department of Employment and Manpower (DEM).
Seng Sakda, Director of DEM, said 19,968 Cambodians were working illegally in Thailand
and many more in other countries such as Malaysia. "We don't know how many illegal
private companies are in Cambodia, because they do not tell us about their activities.
Who knows when someone becomes a thief?"
"If we find any company... that has illegal workers, the Ministry will take
their license immediately."
But Nop Sarin Sreyroth, monitoring coordinator for Cambodian Women's Crisis Center,
said many of the licensed companies are employing underage workers. "It is difficult
to deal with the problem of companies employing underage girls to work abroad because
they are licensed by government."
"The girls face many difficulties working in Malaysia because workers have their
passports taken by their boss. If they want to visit home, their bosses pay them
just half of their salaries per year, In addition often the salary is not the same
as in the contract. The only thing that is certain is that when companies take workers
who are not willing, it's illegal," Sreyroth said.