The two persons of the photo are very popular on the Sihanoukville’s beaches, especially O’Cheteal. I tried to talk with the man, but he does not say much. He is a blind. Probably a former soldier. Probably he lost the eyes during the troublesome years of Cambodia. He sings and begs for money, especially to foreigners. He is guided by that little girl. I have been in Sihanoukville since 2006 and they have been around by then. The girls does not attend school. It is supposed that the man is her father. She picks cans, an activity that children of the streets do. They sell them and get some money.
This interesting couple is not the only one in the city. There are many others. Handicap men and tattered women wandering the beaches begging for money with their children. It is possible that some of the children are ‘rented.’ Children are used to create compassion. It is usual that foreigners and Cambodians feel pity and give to them money.
Asking money all the day means that a couple like this can get an average of 50 dollars. It is much more than what a Cambodian earns per day being a teacher, a policeman, a firefighter or a worker. It is understandable that making a proposal to this man to join any program for blind people is unsuccessful. Now well, we have proposed to beggars like this man that we could support the studies of children like this girl. The answer is no. They argue that ‘they need the children.’
Foreigners on the beach continue giving money to couples like this. Cambodians who visit the beaches think that giving money to them brings good fortune (to those who give, of course.) Moreover, Cambodian Buddhists consider that this couple is paying a kind of Karma, therefore, it is good they continue being beggars on the beach. Foreign tourists think that this is a very pitiful scene. It belongs to a poor country like Cambodia, so it is in a special way very normal. Giving a bill of dollar to them means nothing and the blind and his little girl will stop to disturb them. Anyway ‘I came to Cambodia to enjoy the country, not to give education to a little dirty girl and her dirty bad-singer blind father… what do I have in this story?’ Certain NGOs focus their efforts to protect children from sexual assaults, especially from sexual pedophile tourists. They have a big net of security in Sihanoukville to watch the behavior of foreign tourists. If one of them touches a minor, they operate with promptitude and follow the case to courts. The statistics show that most sexual abuse cases are made by Cambodians, especially in the same families of the children. But the NGOs that care for children are not interested too much in those cases. Anyway, if a foreigner is catch touching a child, they can make pressure over the tribunals to get high fines from the perpetrator. At the same time, cases of foreign abusers get a biggest coverage in the international media. If the name of the NGO is linked to the case as the defender of the victim, the NGO gets good free advertisements from European journalists and, therefore, a lot of funds, so they can pay very high salaries to their big number of staff and buy good cars for their works. If a Cambodian father is accused of abusing his girl, the case has not much media coverage and the perpetrator, by sure, cannot pay much money. Therefore, this couple is out of the interest of those super-NGOs. Then this couple is free to beg for the rest of their life. One day, the little girl will stop to be a little girl. She will be a teenager. But a teenager without education. She will know nothing out of begging and picking up cans from the beach. What is she going to do when she becomes a teenager? Do you want to guest? It is possible that she will end in prostitution or she would be a rape victim. Maybe she will become pregnant several times. Every delivery will be a child. Every of her children will be a new beggar at the O’Cheteal beach. The super-NGOs will check her children in order not to be abused by foreign pedophiles, but they will not bring the children out of the circle of poverty. Benefactors in Europe, scandalized by the European super-journalists and their brave documentaries about Cambodia as a big brothel, will send more and more funds.
Child labor is too common in Cambodia that few people matter about it. You can go through the streets of Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Battambang and even Sieam Reap and see many children doing any kind of work. ‘This is a poor country… it is normal,’ could be your thought. Then, it is normal in Myanmar, Brazil, Congo and Papua New Guinea. If you put attention, most countries of the world are poor. There are many kinds of ways to be a poor country: undeveloped, developing, etc. The fact that European countries, Canada, US and Japan are the most famous places of our planet with the most beautiful Christmas seasons, does not mean that rich countries are majority. Therefore, if we fight child labor in rich countries, while considering child labor as a normal fact in countries like Cambodia, then we are doing something wrong.
Many children in countries like Cambodia work for international companies. By sure, many textiles, shoes or agriculture products were made by children. In 2008 the 75 percent of child workers of Cambodia were living in the farms. In 2009 child workers counted about 1.5 million, according to the International Labor Office. You are scandalized by child abuse in Cambodia, according to the promotions of the super-NGOs of the high rank salaries. But you buy shoes from companies from Europe, Japan and US that do not care about the age of the workers that built those shoes.
Activities of work
Child workers in Cambodia can be found in activities related to agriculture. The poor condition of farm families make that children are used to support the home economy. Child workers can work for about 20 hours per week, most of them without a salary.
Child workers in the main urban centers like Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Riep, Sihanoukville, Poipet and Kompot work in things like sellers on the streets, markets, commerce, industry, beggars, recyclers and sexual engagement.
Several organizations are working to reduce child labor in Cambodia, however, incidence in this gloomy reality still of poor impact and it is possible to see children out of school and going through the streets in poor conditions. Child workers are at risk of any kind of abuse as exploitation, pedophile and human trafficking. They are often out of social protection and health services.
However, the 98 percent of the Cambodian children were attending school by 2006. It means also that many children are both working and going to school.
By 2001 a study of the SIMPOC, concluded that out of child workers in Cambodia, 45 percent were males and 44.6 percent were females aged 5-14 years old. From them, 8.6 percent were not attending school, being 9 percent boys and 8.2 percent girls.
The most vulnerable child labor population that do not attend school is located in rural areas.
Why children work in Cambodia
Poverty is the main reason why children work in Cambodia. In rural areas they are constricted by the same families to help in the fields and cattle. In urban areas children are sent by adults to get money (selling, begging, stealing, prostitution) from the streets to support the home economy. Parents can be the first responsible of this situation also due to their poor formation. However, other kind of adults can be involved, especially in what has to see with human trafficking.
Areas visited by foreign tourism can be preferred by children looking for money (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Poipet). The natural capacity of children of produce pity, make them valuable for adults willing to get easy dollars from foreigners. Giving money to child beggars promotes child labor and exploitation. In this case, foreign visitors should be advised to restrain of giving money to children.
Children working in markets, commerce, bars and industry can be controlled by official policies.
Strict rules should be applied to night clubs, pubs, beaches, tourist spots and other adult sort of entertainment to forbid children and underage persons to stay in those places, especially after 6 PM.
Street children should receive a especial attention in Cambodia through a better social protection system and the action of humanitarian organizations that should be supported to reduce the number of wandering children and putting them inside schooling systems.