Human rights

Child Labour Index: Cambodia highest risk in region for underage workers

Consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft has ranked Cambodia 28th in the world and the highest risk in Southeast Asia for the use of child labour in its 2020 index. The Southeast Asia region as a whole faired poorly, with seven countries deemed at 'extreme' or 'high' risk

Child Labour Index: Cambodia highest risk in region for underage workers
A Cambodian boy pushing his cart loaded with popcorn in Phnom Penh in 2014. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy

Verisk Maplecroft’s recently compiled 2020 Child Labour Index ranked Cambodia 28th in the world, and the highest risk among Southeast Asian countries, for the use of underage workers.

The figures, provided to the Globe this week by the UK-based global risk and consulting firm to mark World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, paint a bleak picture for child labour across the region. 

Children in both Cambodia and Myanmar (ranked 30th), the worst scorers in Southeast Asia, were deemed at ‘extreme risk’ of being inducted into labour. Laos (50), Thailand (70), the Philippines (81), Indonesia (83) and Vietnam (83) were all also deemed ‘high-risk’ countries for child labour. 

The index is compiled to enable companies to identify where the risk of association or complicity with child labour is highest in their supply chains, measuring a country’s adoption of laws and international treaties on child labour, the frequency and severity of its violations of child labour laws, the quality of its domestic legal framework, as well as its ability and willingness to enforce child labour laws.

2020’s figures showed that 81% of people globally live in countries with a high or extreme risk of child labour. Somalia was the worst performing country globally, with North Korea second, in a top ten featuring seven African countries. 

Cambodia has among the highest informal employment rates in the world at 93.1% of its workforce, according to 2018 International Labour Organisation statistics. Laos, similarly, had 93.6% of its workforce employed in the informal sector. Verisk Maplecroft analyst Sofia Nazalya said this dependence on informal workers was at the heart of the child labour issue across the region. 

“This [poor child labour standards] owes to the fact a lot of these countries depend on an informal workforce – and labour rights are poorly enforced and under-resourced,” she said. “In Cambodia and Vietnam, we can see this flatlining in terms of progress.”

The minimum age for employment in Cambodia is 15, but 2018 statistics from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs estimated that some 237,000 (or 8.1%) of children aged 5-14 in Cambodia were in the workforce. Agriculture represented by far the largest share of child labour, with 81.9% of cases. 

The Cambodian government has made several concerted public efforts to reduce the levels child labour in the Kingdom, including the National Action Plan 2016-2020 on gender mainstreaming and elimination of the worst forms of child labour in the fisheries sector. 

With the global economic downturn as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Nazalya said that there is a risk of a “downward trajectory” on the issue of child labour worldwide. 

“Covid-19 is not going to make this situation [child labour] much better,” she said. “Moving forward, there’s a risk that this sort of downward trajectory, and flatlining, is likely to continue – especially now with the coronavirus having an effect.”

An in-depth report on Cambodia’s ongoing issue with child labour in its brick kilns, released for World Day Against Child Labour 2020, can be read here.

Read more articles