How and why we work: child workers in the informal economy in Phnom Penh and Battambang

How and why we work: child workers in the informal economy in Phnom Penh and Battambang

The worst forms of urban child labour in Cambodia

While it is well-recognised that the "worst forms of child labour" are pervasive throughout Cambodia, the full dimension of urban child labour remains elusive, in part because of the wide range of implicated sectors (both formal and informal), the broad geographic reach and disparities depending on location, the hidden nature of particular forms of labour (domestic labour, illegal drug trafficking, underground commercial sexual exploitation, etc.), the fluidity of child labour trends and patterns, and the scarcity of up-to-date comprehensive data on child labour in Cambodia.

This report is the result of three months of research to assess the worst forms of urban child labour in Phnom Penh and Battambang. It is hoped that the research findings will help advance the knowledge base on urban child labour and further inform development of innovative action programmes that target the most vulnerable urban child labourers.

Through interviews with 102 children between age 5 to 18 working as scavengers (collecting recyclables on the streets and at the dump site), beggars, day laborers, anchovies (prahok) cleaners, construction workers, and vendors of knick-knacks, the author found that:

  • in Phnom Penh, 68 percent of the children working are between 13 – 16 years old; 53 percent of child workers are female and 47 percent are male; 26 percent of the child workers never attended school and are illiterate; of those who had attended school, only 15 percent completed primary education; and 66 percent of the child workers are currently working full-time and not attending any form of schooling at all
  • in Battambang, 67 percent of the children working are between 13 – 16 years old; 43 percent of child workers are female and 57 percent are male; 20 percent of the child workers never attended school and are illiterate; of those who had attended school, only 13 percent completed primary education; and 70 percent of the child workers are currently working full-time and not attending any form of schooling at all.

The author concludes that there remains the critical need to train and develop marketable skills that will break child labourers working in the worst forms of child labour from the poverty cycle. Assistance to address family basic needs is necessary in order to prevent exploitation of the children.

The author makes recommendations to the Government of Cambodia and NGOs working in Cambodia.