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Tally of goods linked to child labour grows

A young boy loads unfired bricks into a kiln in Kandal’s Prek Anhchanh village last year
A young boy loads unfired bricks into a kiln in Kandal’s Prek Anhchanh village last year. Hong Menea

Tally of goods linked to child labour grows

Four more goods made in Cambodia have been linked to exploitative child labour, adding to a mounting list of items the United States considers to be produced in violation of international rights laws.

Released on Monday night, the US Labor Department’s list of worldwide goods created with forced or child labour adds Cambodia’s alcoholic beverages, meat, textiles and timber.

All of the now 11 items listed for Cambodia are cited for indenturing children.

The mounting number of Cambodian goods found to use child labour runs counter to the global trend, according to an International Labour Organisation report cited by the US. While there were an estimated 215 million child labourers worldwide in 2008, the figure declined to 168 million in 2012. But of the labouring children, more than 50 per cent were engaged in hazardous work.

Three of the four sectors most recently added to Cambodia’s list are considered hazardous and therefore illegal work for children, according to a government prakas.

“It’s really not surprising, child labour in Cambodia is on the increase,” said Moeun Tola, labour program coordinator at the Community Legal Education Centre. “We keep finding more and more big industries that employ children, like factories, construction projects and especially the large plantations such as rubber and sugar.”

The latest US Labor Department list, which bases its compilation on data available to the public, bases the Cambodia additions on The Cambodia Child Labour 2012 survey, which found about 10 per cent of all Cambodian kids between ages 5 and 17 are undertaking work hazardous to their health.

“As more families get evicted and lose their land, they are forced to change their livelihood from farmers to labourers and must get their kids to work too,” Tola said. “That’s the push factor, and then the pull factor is that skilled workers, or anyone who can, will migrate . . . leaving a labour force shortage that leads to management turning the other way when underage workers apply.”

Cambodian birth certificates are frequently falsified for employment purposes, multiple reports have found, and the Ministry of Labour attests it has “no verification process”.

“If you give me your passport, and it says you were born in 1961, how can I verify it?” asked Heng Sour, Labour Ministry spokesman. Sour, who said he had not seen the goods list, maintained that Cambodia is “on track to eliminate all forms of child labour by 2016”.

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