Building disasters shed light on child labour in Cambodia’s construction sector


A Cambodian workers’ union called for a halt to a construction boom in the country on Wednesday, January 08, following a series of building disasters that has killed more than 60 people, including young children, in the last seven months.

The death of six children in the latest building site to collapse have also highlighted the Cambodian government’s lack of vigilance and policing against child labour.

The disaster on January 03, in which 36 workers and their families died at the unfinished guesthouse in the coastal town of Kep, has shed a spotlight on the problem of children living and working on building sites – a common practice in Cambodia.

At least two of the children were infants and it was unclear whether any of the other dead children were employed on the site.

“Do we want this to become known as normal in Cambodia?” said Sou Chhlonh, vice president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, after the building’s owners were charged with unintentional homicide.

The union wants all construction projects frozen until they are inspected and compliant with legal and safety regulations, as growing crowds of Chinese tourists and investors have fuelled a boom that officials valued at US$6.4 billion in 2017.

Campaigners say the industry is rife with child labour, as are the hundreds of kilns that provide what have been dubbed ‘blood bricks’ for Cambodia’s boom.

“You only have to go for a walk to see child labour in the construction industry,” said Khun Tharo, a programme coordinator at the Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, a charity.

After the first disaster in June, when 28 people died as a building site caved in while they slept, the minister for construction and urban planning said workers and their children could no longer live on site, according to local media reports.

But the labourers – many of whom migrate from the countryside with young families and work on day rates without contracts and earn as little as US$6 a day – have no choice, campaigners say.

On Wednesday evening, the Thomson Reuters Foundation witnessed families cooking and relaxing in their makeshift living spaces on building sites in the capital, Phnom Penh.

“That issue is still being addressed; it takes time to implement,” said government spokesman Phay Siphan, adding that Cambodia is committed to wiping out child labour.

“If you see child labour, report it and authorities will close them down.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)