The International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed in a recent survey that nearly 28,000 children work in household positions in Cambodia often for seven days a week and for little or no wages.
The survey found that 10 percent of children in Phnom Penh between the ages of seven and 17 work in such households. Duties include cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, or babysitting.
Of the 27,950 children comprising this child labor force in Phnom Penh, nearly 60 percent are girls. The ILO also found that 60 percent of the children work an entire day without rest and that 57 percent of them are expected to work seven days a week.
The ILO issued a statement with the survey saying the use of children "for household work is becoming increasingly common, due to a mixture of economic and social changes and cultural factors."
"I have trouble helping these children who are forced to work at homes in Phnom Penh because I rarely receive complaints from children or their families" — ; Phnom Penh police chief Heng Peou told RFA's Khmer service.
"We have no laws that allow police to enter a home and investigate such matters when we have no evidence to go on. If we hear complaints from the children's mothers, we can help," Heng Peou said.
About 80 percent of the child workers receive compensation in the form of food, shelter, and education, and often work in relatives' homes. However, nearly 40 percent of child laborers who attend school drop out and 14 percent remain illiterate.
Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cambodia, however, are taking steps toward helping reduce the numbers of child laborers.
One NGO, the Cambodian Children Against Starvation and Violence Association (CCASVA), receives financial support from Save the Children Norway. The group is helping Phnom Penh's working children by paying them wages and allowing them to take breaks for rest and food.
"From our research, we see that many of the child laborers come from families that suffer from domestic violence, gambling, alcoholism, and divorce," CCASVA executive director Phok Bunroeun told RFA.
Another NGO called the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children's Rights (CCPCR) is working to draw more public attention to the plight of child laborers.
"Cambodian children are suffering too much from labor exploitation and sexual trafficking" — ; CCPCR executive director Yim Po told RFA. "[Child labor] is a big issue we are trying to investigate...There is no law to protect the children, yet for the families who hire them, they need to respect the rules."
"CCPCR's problem is that once we receive information about a case of child labor abuse, when we ask the child about the situation, he or she is afraid to talk to us. We can only help if we get clear information — ; otherwise, it's very difficult," Yim Po said. He said many children run the risk of rape, beatings, or starvation when they work in other people's homes.
Child labor in Cambodia has been an ongoing problem. The U.S. State Department's 2003 human rights report found that "of children between the ages of 5 years and 17 years, 53 percent were employed with 'the most serious child labor problems' in the informal sector," which includes domestic labor.