Combating Cambodia’s child exploitation problem, one phone call at a time
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Combating Cambodia’s child exploitation problem, one phone call at a time

CAMBODIA has had a troubled past, but the nation that was once synonymous with conflict and poverty is undergoing an economic resurgence.

As one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, the country’s gross domestic product has grown by 7 percent or more each year since 2011 and is expected to keep up that pace through 2017 according to the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Development Outlook 2016.

But while many reap the rewards of the recent boom, there has been one casualty of it.

Cambodia is still struggling to curb its problem with child labour. While things have improved in recent years with implementation of child protection legislation, there are still problem areas.

An estimated 430,000 youth under the age of 18 work. Many are forced to quit school to help their families and around 220,000 are employed in conditions that the International Labour Organization categorises as the “worst forms of child labour”, including agriculture, salt production, domestic work, fishing and brick-making.

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A report released in December last year by the Cambodian League for the Promotion of Defense of Human Rights (Licadho), entitled “Built on Slavery: Debt Bondage and Child Labour in Cambodia’s Brick Factories”, details the exploitation of child labour in the capital’s building industry.

The report states that child labour is widespread in Cambodia’s brick factories and authorities are making no efforts to eradicate the crimes.

As Phnom Penh expands upwards and outwards, brick production has surged and with that an increase in child exploitation in the industry.

And this is not the only problem area.

Tourism has also been a major driver in the economic success of the nation with it becoming Cambodia’s second biggest industry after textiles.

With the increase in tourism has also come the threat of sexual exploitation. With traditional sex-tourism destinations such as Thailand and Philippines clamping down on the issue, fear has been raised that offenders will move their business to neighbouring nations like Cambodia, making Cambodia’s children more vulnerable to predatory behaviour and forced labour in the depraved industry.

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An organisation taking measures to tackle the problem of Cambodia’s child abuse issue is Child Helpline Cambodia (CHC). By transforming the way in which the country’s most vulnerable children can access help, more children are finding their way out of abusive situations.

CHC, the recipient of the 2016 Stars Impact Award, provides a free 24-hour phone counselling and referral service for children and youth up to 25 years old.

In a country in which emotional and physical abuse is still prevalent, their services have proven a blessing for thousands of children in need.

Receiving between 10,000 and 12,000 calls each month in 2015, CHC has shown that Cambodia’s children very much need a safe and secure platform on which to discuss their problems.

By making the service easily accessible over phone call, website and text messaging, even the most vulnerable among the population are able to contact them for guidance.

As well as providing counselling, information and follow-up services via their hotline, the group also empowers children by encouraging young people to work as social change agents in their own communities through the Helpline Ambassadors training program.

Their work has produced noteworthy results. Carol Mortensen, the co-founder of CHC, highlights how they’re making a difference. She says:

“Today there are human traffickers in jail who were reported to police by the child helpline, children and young people who felt suicidal, were being abused or exploited received appropriate assistance, and more children and young people are using the services.”

Thanks to CHC “more children and young people are being supported to realize their right to live a life full of hopes and dreams!”

In a booming country that still struggles with child abuses, what could be more valuable than that?