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Children in Cambodia: Growing Up Fast
You Saravuth and Hor Hen
Children at Work
Chaw has brought his family to Compot District of Compot Province for seasonal work for the last 10 years. The vast majority of Cambodian children work. Their labor is imperative for their survival and the survival of their families. In rural areas, kids are expected to work beside their parents on farms. In cities, they are sent out to sell flowers, drinks or shine shoes for extra money. Everywhere children are expected to take care of their younger siblings and take up difficult family chores as soon as they are able—work that is usually reserved for parents or servants in the developed world. In Cambodia, however, kids work everywhere and form a significant, underreported part of the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, in the urban areas, the increasing number of street children has always been a problem in Cambodia. Many of these children barely survive by doing menial jobs or begging, and these children are regularly exposed to a dangerous environment. They work and collect scrap, for example, from the garbage hill in Sangkat Chamkadong Khandong Kor that is about 10 kilometers north of Phnom Penh.
The struggle of the everyday lives of these Cambodian children is
imprinted on their faces. It is difficult to know what to do to help
them have a better life, for they need jobs to earn some money.
Chun Sam Ban, a policeman in the Kok Chork Commune in the city of Siem
Reap, said that Vin Krouch, 50, who lives in the village of Angkor Kraov
in the commune, is habitually drunk and coerces his sons to beg from
tourists who flock to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, the nearby UNESCO
World Heritage Site. All of the money collected by the boys is then used
by their father to further support his alcohol addiction.
In addition, some parents in Koktlok Commune in Takeo Province’s
Ankorborey District explain that in areas that are flooded during the
rainy season they stop their children from going to school and ask them
to wait until the dry season to continue their education. They take
these precautions, they say, because the school is very far from their
home and that if they allow their children to go to school they are
afraid that it is too dangerous for them because of the floods.
Furthermore, like the families above, they are very poor, and they need
to work in the fields. Because there is no one at home to take care of
their children, their children cannot go to school properly.
Kunthak Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh is very famous in Cambodia.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of families in the capital as well as from
faraway provinces bring their children to the hospital to get treatment and
medicine. Mothers and their children have to wait outside near the hospital,
however, to get a number in order to enter the hospital and have their
children examined by a doctor. It is not uncommon for families to wait three
to four hours to get the precious number to enter the hospital. Sometimes
people have to wait until the evening though or even the next day.
* You Saravuth is director of the Finance Dept. of Free Press Magazine (FPM Online in Khmer at www.fpmonline.net) and works with the real life program of Freedom and Press Monitor Cambodia (www.khmerfreedom.org). FPM Cambodia monitors freedom of expression and the press in the country.
* Hor Hen is a 2007 alumni of the School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in Bangalore, India. He lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.