Struggle of Phnom Penh's child domestic workers

A new survey by the Government of Cambodia, sponsored by the ILO, finds that almost 28,000 children are working in domestic service in Phnom Penh; often seven days a week, with little or no pay or chance to go to school.

Press release | PHNOM PENH,BANGKOK | 12 March 2004

Phnom Penh/Bangkok: Almost 28,000 children are working in domestic service in Phnom Penh; often seven days a week, with little or no pay or chance to go to school. These are the findings of a new survey, sponsored by the ILO (International Labour Organization) and carried out by the Government of Cambodia.

What's more, the report concludes that the use of children - those aged 7-17 - for domestic work is becoming increasingly common, due to a mixture of economic and social changes and cultural factors.

The survey estimates there are 27,950 child domestic workers (CDWs) in Phnom Penh, equivalent to almost one in 10 of the city's child population. 60 per cent are employed in the houses of relatives - washing, cleaning, cooking, child-minding or gardening. Such arrangements are increasingly common in many Asian countries, including Cambodia, the report says, and are often seen by poor parents as a way of educating their children and creating opportunities for them. Other children have to work because they are orphans.

58.6 per cent of child domestic workers in Phnom Penh are girls and 41.4 per cent boys.

Children are also working very long hours. 60 per cent don't get even one hour of rest during a working day and 57 per cent were expected to work seven days a week (among girls that figure is almost 70 per cent).

In return, 80 per cent receive no cash wages; just food, shelter, living essentials and perhaps education at the employer's expense.

However, even when their employers are initially well-intentioned, only a small proportion of child domestic workers actually get the chance they want to attend school, and many - up to 40 per cent - drop out, perhaps because of the dual workload. Of those surveyed, 58.9 per cent finished primary education and 35.6 per cent completed secondary education. 14 per cent were illiterate, with girls in the majority. "This not only has implications for the future options of the [child] but contributes to a sense of isolation" the report concludes.

This ILO-supported survey shows that child domestic labour is a real and growing problem. It is both a symptom of current poverty and a contributor to future poverty, because it denies children the education that can lead them to a better life. As adults we need to recognize that children have rights too," said Christine Evans-Klock, Director of the ILO's Subregional Office in Bangkok. "This survey not only highlights the hazards of domestic work for children, it reminds us that to help children, more and better jobs for adults are needed"

The survey was complied over six weeks, in all seven districts of Phnom Penh. It was launched today (March 16th) at the opening of a workshop organized by the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) of Cambodia's Ministry of Planning (MOP) in Phnom Penh.

For more information please contact:
Sophy Fisher
Regional Information Officer
ILO Bangkok
Tel : + 66 2288 2482