Over one million Cambodian children forced to work for 50 cents a day

Some 1.5 million children aged 7 to 17 years old are being put to work in Cambodia, the World Bank said Wednesday, calling on the government to curb the practice.

The number is "very high," making up 40 percent of children in the age group, the bank said in a December 2006 report seen Wednesday.

Titled "Children's Work in Cambodia: A Challenge for Growth and Poverty Reduction," the report defines child labor as a legal concept reflecting a subset of work that is injurious, negative or undesirable for children.

"This percentage is very high relative to other countries with similar levels of income, underscoring that children's work poses a particular concern in the Cambodian context," it said.

Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries, and about 35 percent of its 14 million people live below the national poverty line of US$0.50 (EUR 0.40) a day. The country relies on an average of US$500 million (Ђ386 million) in foreign development aid every year.

The report cited poverty and need to supplement family income as reasons forcing children to work.

Ninety percent of economically active children in the 7-14 age range perform agricultural and household work as unpaid laborers to help their parents.

More than 250,000 children aged 15-17 years are in seven of the 16 nationally identified hazardous sectors for which data are available, working 43 or more hours per week. On average, they toil for about US$1 (EUR 80 cents) a day often in hazardous and dangerous conditions that leave "them vulnerable to injury and illness," the report said.

It said child labor has led to late school entry and substantial dropout starting in upper primary grades for many children, who "are denied the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed for gainful future employment, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty."

Cambodia's efforts to tackle the problem remains inadequate, it said, calling on the government to clearly define what constitutes child labor and strengthen legislative measures for its elimination.

"A substantial reduction of child labor will therefore boost human capital accumulation and raise the country's growth potential," the report said.