Call to Stop Child Labor
Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng yesterday called on officials to take stricter action in preventing child labor and asked civil society organizations to help monitor and report abuses immediately, but without doing so publically.
The call was made during a ceremony at the Labor Ministry to announce the official launch of the 2016-2025 National Action Plan on the reduction of child labor.
At the ceremony, Mr. Samheng acknowledged the existence of some forms of child labor, such as sexual exploitation and forcing children to beg or work in some informal sectors, but claimed it happened minimally and said the government was working to eliminate it.
“Besides these problems, there are also problems in some areas such as sugarcane farms. Some organizations previously used the slogan ‘blood sugar’ which meant they used child labor,” he said.
“This is a bad message and relevant authorities, especially the labor department in those areas, need to increase inspection.”
Mr. Samheng called on civil society organizations to report cases of child labor directly to the government rather than publically announce their findings, which could put Cambodia in a bad light.
“All partner organizations, please monitor and provide information immediately to the inspector in that location if any case relating to child labor is found rather than making a report that lacks professionalism and affects the prestige of Cambodian society and government efforts,” he said.
“That is not a positive report and we do not welcome this action.”
The minister’s comments come after rights group Licadho issued a report earlier this month entitled “Built on Slavery: Debt Bondage and Child Labor in Cambodia’s Brick Factories.”
The report documented the many children working in the brick manufacturing industry to help their parents who are poor and often in debt bondage with brick factory owners.
The report said that although Cambodia has legal provisions that punish the use of debt bondage and child labor, these crimes still persisted and often in full view and with the full awareness of the authorities responsible for eliminating them.
The report said that the practices of debt bondage and child labor “are closely related and together are responsible for trapping multiple generations of families in a repeating cycle of poverty and servitude.”
Mr. Samheng said inspectors were checking and investigating Licadho’s claims thoroughly and if the ministry finds the report to be unfounded, the rights group will be held responsible.
Licadho’s monitoring manager Am Sam Ath said the report was made to urge the government to have a mechanism to resolve the problems uncovered at the brick factories.
“The purpose of this report was not meant to blame or criticize the government. It is also not right if they blame civil society organizations as those locations are not far from authorities’ offices,” he said.
“What’s important is the inspectors themselves did not check the issue clearly. These problems are not just happening in a few factories. It’s a common problem and it needs to be solved.”
Leng Vireak, a senior program manager at the NGO World Vision, said the government and relevant partners must continue trying to eliminate child labor, which he said was prevalent in the agriculture, production, garment manufacturing and tourism sectors.
“Although there is much participation and attention to this from civil society organizations and government institutions, the worst kinds of child labor are still occurring. It’s a serious situation and we must work harder,” he said.
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