Unicef has welcomed a reminder issued by the Labour Ministry for businesses to prevent child labour.
Unicef issued a statement on Monday that said child labour deprives children of the right to go to school, exposes them to violence and reinforces a cycle of poverty.
“One of our priorities is to advocate for more social workers who are able to provide support to those vulnerable children and their families,” the statement said. “We are also supporting the implementation of social assistance programmes to make sure vulnerable and disadvantaged children have equitable access to quality public services.”
The statement followed a reminder issued by the Labour Ministry last week, when Labour Minister Ith Samheng said the business community must avoid employing minors at their enterprises.
“The ministry will take legal action on business owners who are caught making this mistake,” Mr Samheng said.
Cambodia, as a signatory country to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is obligated to protect children’s rights and keep them from harm, Unicef said.
Unicef works with the government and NGO partners to strengthen child protection systems. It noted that children from poor families can receive financial support to enable them to attend school.
Unicef said the government and the business community must actively prevent child labour by addressing vulnerabilities children face in their daily lives.
“We believe that the government has the primary duty to protect, respect and fulfil children’s rights,” it said. “Private business has enormous potential to impact children’s lives – both positively and negatively.”
Unicef added that companies that champion the rights of children in their strategies and operations can also boost their reputation and brand value.
“Child labour is preventable through integrated approaches that simultaneously address poverty and inequity, improve access to quality education and mobilise public support,” it said.
A day after Mr Samheng issued his reminder for minors not to be employed, the Royal Holloway of the University of London released a report stating that the boom in the construction industry in Cambodia was built on modern slavery.
The report, entitled “Blood Bricks: Untold Stories of Modern Slavery and Climate Change from Cambodia”, shed light on “tens of thousands of debt-bonded families in Cambodia [working] to meet Phnom Penh’s insatiable appetite for bricks.”
“Urban development is built on unsustainable levels of debt taken on by rural families struggling to farm,” the report said. “[Brick] Kiln owners repay farmers’ debts and offer a consolidated loan. In return, farmers and their families are compelled to enter [debt].”
Mr Samheng responded to the report two days after its publication and ordered an investigation into what was reported.
“We will investigate this by going into the field to see firsthand if the report was correct,” he said. “If the employment of children does happen, we will take strong action.”
Last year, rights group Licadho warned that children were still being exploited in handicraft and brick factories across the country despite efforts to put an end to child labour.
Licadho’s monitoring manager Am Sam Ath at the time said government policy to reduce and eliminate child labour failed to rescue some of the country’s most vulnerable young people.
“It still happens in some handicrafts and brick factories and in people’s homes where children work as maids,” Mr Sam Ath said. “We have the government policy in place, so we must implement it and punish owners of factories and perpetrators who commit these crimes.”