Boom built on ‘slavery’

Kong Sophat (right) works in a kiln in a Kandal province brick factory last month. Sophat lost his arm in a workplace accident a few years ago. Pha Lina

Shaun Turton and Niem Chheng
The Phnom Penh Post, Fri, 2 December 2016

The use of debt bondage to trap workers in “modern day slavery” is widespread in many of Cambodia’s brick-making factories, indicates research by rights group Licadho, whose findings suggest the Kingdom’s recent building boom is built on the illegal practice.

In a report released today titled Built on Slavery: Debt Bondage and Child Labour in Cambodia’s Brick Factories, the organisation documents the exploitation of both adults and children at factories in Tbong Khmum, Kandal and Phnom Penh, which every day funnel tens of thousands of bricks to construction sites around the capital.

Through interviews with about 50 workers, Licadho found all but one were working to pay off loans of between $1,000 and $6,000 provided by owners, who used bondage to guarantee a “long-term, cheap and compliant workforce”, the authors argue.

Paid “by piece” rates – cash per brick amounting to between $2 and $10 per day – the labourers were often unable to repay the money, leaving them trapped in perpetual servitude and poverty.

Further, the debt bondage – which is illegal under Cambodian and international law – has ensnared multiple generations of the same families, a major reason for the prevalence of child labour in the hazardous industry, according to the report, released to coincide with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

Visits by the Post to two brick factories this week confirmed the practice appeared widespread. One factory owner ac-knowledged that some businesses, on the lookout for good workers, would even poach labourers from other sites by acquiring their debts. (more…)

Posted on: December 1, 2016 8:30 pm

A UN agenda adapted for kids

In 2030 Not a Fairytale, Arlene Gormely adapts the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to a book for children. Photo supplied

Kezia Parkins, The Phnom Penh Post
Fri, 18 November 2016

Siem Reap-based Arlene Gormley moved from Northern Ireland five years ago and co-founded Feeding Dreams, a community school that provides free education, school meals and support to hundreds of children and families. She has recently written, illustrated and self-published a children’s book addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted last year to combat climate change, end hunger and improve health (among others) by 2030. Gormley spoke with Kezia Parkins about 2030 Not A Fairytale, how she decided to release it in Cambodia – and why she’s aimed the book at a young audience.

Why did you decide to write and publish 2030 Not A Fairytale?

As a master’s student [of international development], I based my second-year practicum on translating the Sustainable Development Goals to a country-specific context so that they can be made relevant to youth and engage them in playing a role in the implementation of the SDG agenda. The book was originally intended as a hand-made Christmas gift for my 3-year-old niece in Belfast – I wanted to be able to explain to her the kind of work that I’m involved in and why I’m in Cambodia. There are 17 goals – so it took more time than I anticipated – and often I would be found frantically sketching in Blue Pumpkin on my lunch breaks. Some teacher friends asked me if they could get a copy for their classes, and so it began. I self-published a limited number of copies and distributed them among people I knew. Earlier this year, following a serendipitous meeting, an in-kind donation was made to publish 3,000 hard copies. Now, the books are retailing at $10 each. All profits are donated to Feeding Dreams.

Do you think there is a lack of education [in sustainable development] for young children?

This wee book is the only resource geared towards young children about the global goals – I have researched this. Maybe people think the subject is too “adult”, and that young children should not be introduced to concepts like gender equality or climate change until they are older. This baffles me – surely it’s easier to be introduced to the importance of gender equality at a young age, when children have young minds that soak up information. It’s more difficult to relearn as an adult. (more…)

Posted on: November 17, 2016 9:08 pm

Flood advances across Dangkor

Motorists turn around on Chamka Doung road yesterday in Dangkor district after flood waters rendered the road impassable. Heng Chivoan

Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Joey Chua Xue Ting
The Phnom Penh Post, Thu, 20 October 2016

More families have been forced to temporarily move and numerous businesses were affected after a still-unpatched leak in the capital’s Prek Thnout dam led to unprecedented flooding along a section of road in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district starting late on Tuesday night.

A 2-kilometre stretch of road along Street 217 – which runs from the south of Spean Thma commune’s Prek Chrey bridge to Roluos commune’s Kuo Srov roundabout – yesterday saw water levels almost knee-deep, prompting a factory located along the road, Y&W Garment Co Ltd, to temporarily close down.

“To prevent any danger befalling our workers and staff – totalling about 2,000 people – our factory on Tuesday declared a temporary holiday until the water recedes,” said Cheab Pichnary, administration assistant of the children’s garment manufacturer.

Several tightly bundled, metre-high bags of scrap cloth from the factory could be seen densely packed in a row to form a barrier stemming the water’s flow into the premises.

“We started building [the barrier] at 11pm [on Tuesday], when the water level started rising, until the sky was bright,” said Wang Xing Shan, a worker at the factory.

According to Pichnary, the factory – which typically produces about 2,000 pieces of clothing per hour – yesterday missed exporting four containers of an overseas shipment.

Security guards walk over a makeshift footpath on Phnom Penh’s Chamka Doung road yesterday after flood waters inundated the area. Joey Chua Xue Ting

“Our factory is suffering a loss of $40,000 to $50,000 per day, and we will lose even more if the flooding continues,” she said.

Business, meanwhile, was dismal at a stall selling local dishes opposite the factory.

“Our business depends on the factory workers,” stall vendor Roth Sreymom, 18, said. “If the workers do not work, we won’t be able to sell food, too. We will lose our income if the workers have a long holiday.”

According to an updated report released yesterday by the National Committee for Disaster Management, flooding has so far affected a total of 850 families in all of Dangkor district, 250 of which have been evacuated.

“The water is knee-deep now,” said 32-year-old Sovesna, a resident who lives along the road, but was forced to temporarily relocate. “My family and I decided to pack our stuff to stay at our relatives’ house for a while to avoid any unexpected accidents such as electric shock.”

Dangkor district governor Nut Puthdara yesterday said traffic along the road will be temporarily halted to “reduce road damage”, and called for public patience and cooperation.

Posted on: October 19, 2016 9:09 pm

Failure of dams leads to flooding in Phnom Penh, Kampong Speu

A child plays in flood waters with an inner tube yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Spean Thma commune. Pha Lina

Khouth Sophak Chakrya
The Phnom Penh Post, Tue, 18 October 2016

Thousands of homes in Phnom Penh and Kampong Speu have been flooded after three dams were seriously damaged following two weeks of torrential rain and warnings from government officials.

The homes of 1,637 families in nine different Dangkor district communes have been flooded following severe damage to the three dams, according to a police inspector who asked to be identified only as Panha. An additional 1,367 homes have been flooded in Kampong Speu.

Prek Thnout dam was seriously damaged in one spot – where a section of concrete wall collapsed – and sprung a more minor leak in another yesterday, according to Dangkor District Governor Nut Putdara. On Saturday, Roland Chrey dam in Kampong Speu was damaged, and Svay dam followed suit yesterday evening.

Putdara told the Post yesterday that the damage to the Roland Chrey and Svay dams in Kampong Speu had contributed to the damage of the dam in Dangkor.

“After Roland Chrey and Svay Dam broke in Kampong Speu province, the water level in the Prek Thnout River near Phnom Penh rose dramatically,” he said, explaining that the sudden influx of water was too much for the dam to bear.

Authorities have enlisted local people living near Prek Thnout dam into helping repair the damage to prevent even more serious flooding. They have been unsuccessfully trying to plug the leaks with sandbags and a makeshift earthen berm.

A Phnom Penh resident moves her possessions to dry ground yesterday after her Dangkor district house was inundated by flood waters. Pha Lina

“Now, our authorities are actively trying to repair the dam and prevent further damage by using sandbags, tree branches and soil,” Putdara said.

Earlier this month, Putdara warned villagers to be prepared to evacuate to safe zones on higher land in the event of serious flooding.

Yesterday evening, Chhum Chhin, chief of Baku village in Dangkor district, told the Post that 70 families living in his village have packed their things and moved from their flooded homes to safer areas. They are currently living on elevated roadways and hills nearby.

“We are worried about the flood. I think that if it keeps raining and water keeps flowing from Kampong Speu province, houses, schools and pagodas located in the lowland area near the Prek Thnout River will be flooded,” Chhin said.

In Kampong Speu, authorities reported that flooding damaged the two dams at a total of six locations, causing further flooding that made 20 sections of road inaccessible and destroyed 146 hectares of rice crops.

Kampong Speu Provincial Governor Vi Samnang reported that the 1,367 families in nine communes of Kong Pisei district are experiencing flooding, but said the dams cannot be repaired.

“Now, we cannot block the dam since the current is too strong. So we have to let it flow in order to avoid the serious damage,” Samnang said.

Posted on: October 17, 2016 10:13 pm

Child nutrition still lagging in Cambodia: study

A woman washes dishes with her son on the side of a dirt road in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district in 2013. Hong Menea

Cristina Maza, The Phnom Penh Post
Fri, 30 September 2016

The government must boost efforts to eradicate malnutrition among Cambodia’s women and children, many of whom are still chronically malnourished despite improvements in recent years, according to a new report in the International Journal of Food and Nutritional Science.

Basing the study on a review of research from UN organisations, non-profits and the government, the authors determined that stunting among Cambodia’s children under the age of 5 dropped from 45 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2014. Nevertheless, malnutrition is still thought to contribute to around 45 percent of child deaths in Cambodia, the study says.

“The drop in stunting is a great achievement for the country, but 32 percent is still very concerning,” said David Raminashvili, a nutrition expert at World Vision Cambodia. “If this trend continues for five years, then we’ll see some progress.”

The study considers children “stunted” if they are below an average height range for their age. A designation of “wasted”, meanwhile, is applied for children who are below average weight for their height, and “underweight” applies to children who are below average weight for their age. As of 2014, 24 percent of Cambodia’s children under the age of 5 were underweight, while 10 percent were wasted.

Global development experts widely believe that stunting in developing nations has a long-term negative impact on a country’s economic growth and development. According to a study cited in the report, malnutrition is among the most important factors causing poverty in Cambodia. (more…)

Posted on: September 30, 2016 5:21 am

The sunlight is bright

The sunlight is bright, our parents love is great, a gentleman’s forbearance is strong, a person who lacks moral cultivation is arrogant. ~Master Cheng Yen

RFA photo


Posted on: August 18, 2016 10:38 pm