Under new ministerial regulations, employing minors becomes a crime. On 9 March, a nine-year-old girl lost her arm in a Preah Prasap kiln. For PIME Missionary, "it is necessary to counter the idea that those who do not produce are useless to society."
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – The Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has called on relevant agencies to turn to the Criminal Code to prosecute brick kiln owners who employ child labour.
Under a new directive (dated 5 June 2019), brick kiln owners who hire children can go to jail. The owner of such a place in the southeastern province of Kandal will be among the first to face criminal charges after a nine-year-old girl lost her arm in an accident.
Kilns now have to post clearly visible signs that say that minors are not allowed on the premises. The mere presence of children is tantamount to a criminal offence by owners who fail to keep them out.
Debt bondage as a violation of workers’ freedom is also strictly prohibited. Kiln owners must provide accommodations to their employees and families who live far from their workplace. Such housing must be surrounded by an enclosure.
The new regulations stem from a serious incident on 9 March in Preah Prasap, a village in Khsach Kandal district, involving Chheng Srey Pheak, 9, who lost an arm to a machine. Her injuries were so bad that the limb had to be amputated.
Both the provincial director of the Department of Labour and the provincial police said the girl had been helping her parents and had not been forced to work at the factory.
Like in all developing societies, "child labour is a widespread" in Cambodia, said Fr Luca Bolelli, a priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). The clergyman, who arrived in Cambodia 12 years ago, has been the pastor in Kdol Leu, a village in the northeastern province of Kompong Cham, for the past ten years.
"Culturally, child labour does not seem to be such a big deal, especially amid extreme poverty,” Fr Bolelli explains. “I serve a rural community, where it is normal for children to help families in kilns and in the fields. This is due in part to the sense of duty, obedience and sacrifice, which the local culture imposes on children."
Today’s Cambodian society is at a critical juncture. It has a very young population, and economic growth is driving it towards modernity. "I see small steps forward in terms of children's rights, but in my opinion,” says the missionary, “regulations like those adopted by the ministry are imposed mostly to meet international standards of organisations such as ASEAN” (Association South East Asian Nations).
With respect to children, "Given the importance the Gospel places on human dignity, Christian communities are engaged in much valued work of awareness raising,” notes the clergyman.
“Starting in kindergarten, children receive a lot of attention. At the liturgical level, we try to involve kids in religious activities, to enhance their experience of faith. It is necessary to counter the idea that those who do not produce are useless to society."