Children from impoverished families in eastern Cambodia are increasingly unable to attend school and instead spend their days laboring at farm chores, villagers and education workers say.
Chhom Chhorn, manager of the school board for Kratie province’s Koloap commune, said that the rate of attendance at schools in his district is “low.”
“At this time of the year, children are sent to do the farming. Children between the age of 11 and 14 need to help their parents support the family.”
“When school starts, many parents are still working in the rice fields. They return their children to school after the harvesting season, which means that the children have already missed the first semester, making it hard for them to catch up.”
Chhom Chhom said that the school board has sought a solution to the issue for years, but that nothing it has tried to implement has solved the problem.
Poverty and debt
Mom Ki, a villager in Kratie province’s Preah Prasap district, said that she and her elderly husband are unable to work for themselves and rely on their grandson for financial support.
“If my grandson does not work, we do not have money to pay for food, as my husband and I are old now. We need our grandson to work to earn money,” Mom Ki said.
The resident of Prek Prolung village in Preah Prasap’s Saop commune appealed to authorities for the financial support necessary to send the boy to school.
“If my grandson is provided food, I am willing to send him to school to be educated, but he has to travel far from this area. If he studies here, he will not learn anything while he sees his grandparents suffering,” she said.
“If he only studies in Prek Prolung Village, he will not learn anything.”
Saop commune representative Chhay Pheng said that families often require their children to work at home because they owe debt to other community members for business loans.
When the harvest season arrives, he said, those who owe money are forced to take their children out of school to help in harvesting as a means of paying back the debt.
Data from the Ministry of Planning shows that more than 5,000 children in Kratie between the age of 6 and 11 did not attend school in 2008.
Call for reform
Rong Chhun, director of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, conducted a survey of teachers across Cambodia which he said shows that an alarmingly large number of elementary students dropped out of school in 2009.
He called on the Cambodian government to enact educational reforms, which he said will be the key to reducing poverty.
“All Cambodian children should receive a basic education, but the current system does not correspond to the government’s plan. We are concerned about this issue and have called on the Ministry of Education several times to find a solution,” Rong Chhun said.
“The government should have a scholarship policy for poor students and should launch a campaign informing parents not to take their children out of school for labor,” he said.
“We want the government to truly reduce poverty and to provide opportunities for poor students to have access to quality education.”
Original reporting by Or Phearith for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.