Nineteen percent of the country’s four million children are engaged in some kind of labour to sustain themselves and their families, according to the latest figures gathered by the International Labour Organisation. Recent advancements in efforts to eliminate child labour in Cambodia have improved the situation, but the problem is far from being eradicated and access to a proper education and a healthy lifestyle for tens of thousands of children remains limited.
Employers don’t always understand Cambodia’s laws regarding minimum age and may hire interns or full-time employees that do not meet the legal age requirement for the specific activities they are assigned. It is also, of course, a question of morality: independently of what’s stipulated in the law, how old should a person be if they are employed in certain roles, such as serving up drinks behind a bar?
To find an answer to these and other questions concerning the minimum working age in the Kingdom, the B2B team turns to Carrol Sahaidak-Beaver, the executive director of the Cambodia Hotel Association, as well as professionals involved with the ChildSafe movement.
Minimum age for employment
In Cambodia, the minimum age for employment is 15 years, as set out in the Labour Law. Minors (under 18 years) cannot sign an employment contract without the consent of their parents or a guardian. A minor cannot be employed to perform night work either.
Minors aged 12 to 15 years may be hired to do light work provided the work is not hazardous to their health or mental and physical development and does not affect their attendance at school or training programs.
A labour inspector may request that employed minors be examined by a doctor. If the doctor believes the job is too hard for the minor, the employer must change the job or terminate the minor’s employment.
Employers are required to maintain a register of employed children under eighteen years indicating their date of birth. This register must be submitted to the labour inspector for observation.
Minimum age for hazardous work
Minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years. Hazardous work, as described in Cambodian legislation, includes working underground; lifting, carrying, or moving heavy loads; deep-sea and off-shore fishing; working near furnaces or kilns used to manufacture glass ceramics or bricks; firefighting; construction and demolition work; work involving exposure to harmful chemical agents; work done in high temperatures; and handling and spraying pesticides and herbicides.
An employer may request permission from the Ministry of Labour to have employees who are at least 16 years old do hazardous work, provided that their health, safety and morality are guaranteed and the employee has the appropriate training. Night work (between 10pm and 5am), however, is prohibited for these young workers.
The ChildSafe Movement
We discussed the minimum working age with Carrol Sahaidak-Beaver, who brought up the issue of morality as it pertains to the tourism industry.
“On an ethical level, I would encourage not having people under the age of 18 working in a bar or alcohol area. Plus, I would suggest not having people under the age of 18 working unsupervised in cleaning guest rooms,” she said.
Beaver suggested businesses ensure their staff have completed the ChildSafe program, an initiative created by social enterprise Friends International in 2005 to protect vulnerable children against abuse. Through this program, companies can earn a ChildSafe certification, a guarantee that the business is taking a leading role in child protection and adhering to a strict set of internal rules.
To become a ChildSafe-certified business, companies must undergo a stringent process, which includes the full adoption of a number of standards and the training and testing of staff in key departments, which is done with support from the ChildSafe team. Once the company has earned the certification, it can display the ChildSafe logo in its establishment or on its products.
The ChildSafe scheme is gaining momentum in the country across all industries. According to James Sutherland, the international communications coordinator at Friends International, the tourism industry is the biggest in terms of certified businesses, but numbers are also growing fast in the construction sector and the communications industry.
“We are becoming well recognised now, with over 7,000 members across Southeast Asia and beyond, and a reach of over 9 million persons in 2015,” he said, adding that he hopes to increase that recognition in the coming months and years to ensure even more widespread awareness of the ChildSafe Movement.