December 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Children in Cambodia: Growing Up Fast

You Saravuth and Hor Hen

Children at Work

Chien Ri is an 11-year-old worker who rakes salt for her father
to contribute to the family’s income in Cambodia.
(Photo by You Saravuth)

“I don’t know how much money I make. I work for my father,” she says. “I don’t like it, but I have to 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.

A girl prepares bricks to dry under the sunlight at a brick factory.
(Photo by You Saravuth)
For instance, a similar story is taking place in the village of Chheuteal in Kandal Province, which is about 27 kilometers north of Phnom Penh, where a girl dries bricks under the sunlight at a brick factory. Like Chien Ri above, it is because of the family’s poverty that she must work very hard to earn some money to support her family. The future of Cambodia depends on the development of the next generation; but if the young generation lives in poverty and must work hard like this young girl, how can they have a promising future?

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.

Many of Cambodia’s street children do jobs that adults
find unpleasant. (Photo by You Saravuth)

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.

Begging for Father and His Addiction

On Dec. 31, 2012, the police arrested a drunken father who allegedly always hits his two sons and forces them to become beggars.

Vin Krouch beats his two sons to beg for money from tourists in Siem Reap to sustain his obsession with alcohol.
 (Photo by Chea Sros)

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.

Vin’s case will be heard by the city court in Siem Reap on Feb. 1, 2013. Meanwhile, his two sons have been accepted by the organization Mith Samlanh, or Friends, in Phnom Penh to live and learn there.

Minimal Education

Many Cambodian children living in far remote areas do not have access to a good education. There are many factors for children in these areas to be deprived of a good education, such as they are poor, the school is very far from their home, there is no teacher or very few teachers available and a lack of encouragement from their family and community. These are reasons why children give up their education and instead work to support their family.

Instead of going to school, these children work
on their family’s farm. (Photo by You Saravuth)

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.

Patients Require Patience

Mothers hold their children as they wait for hours to enter
a hospital in Phnom Penh. (Photo by You Saravuth)

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 and works with the real life program of Freedom and Press Monitor Cambodia ( 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.