Community-Based Initiatives Break the Cycle of Child Labor Exploitation and Promote Education
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July 2006. An estimated 1.5 million Cambodian children are child laborers and are exposed to various forms of exploitation. Child trafficking and sexual exploitation are increasing, especially in border areas. 14% of school-age children do not attend and there is little recognition of education’s importance or child labor’s negative consequences.

Through its partnership with CIRCLE, HealthCare Center for Children (HCC) has devised community and center-based strategies to break the cycle of labor exploitation, protect child victims, and facilitate healing and reintegration services for them. One of HCC’s innovative strategies is its creation of school-based prevention networks (SBPN) within its target communes. Students are trained to advocate for child rights, expose the worst forms of child labor, promote the importance of education, and talk about the physical and psychosocial consequences of child labor to children and their families.

Since its beginning in June 2005 in 14 schools, the networks have reached at least 9,300 school children and close to 30,000 villagers in selected communes. This story highlights the impact of SBPN’s creative awareness-raising in the target communes of Kamchay Mea District in Prey Veng province:

Three school principals in Kamchay Mea district chose at least 15 students per school to be trained for the SBPN. The school children participated in an HCC workshop covering the following topics: the ooConvention on the Rights of the Child, the benefits of education, gender roles, combating trafficking, safe migration, domestic violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation issues, and intervention techniques.

Each SBPN conducted its activities during the school national anthem ceremony and informally with friends during recess or as they walked home from school. The students utilized the school and community settings to give creative presentations, facilitate role plays, and show picture demonstration on the themes. The SBPNs were also encouraged to talk to their families at home and during harvest time and animal guarding in the field.

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SBPN presentations were always followed by a question and answer session. Role plays were found particularly appealing by students and community members as they brought home scenarios of real-life stories to which the audience could relate.

Within 6 months of intensive SBPN work, and after much encouragement from their parents, 31 children, mostly girls, who had previously dropped out of school, chose to go back. Parents exhibited a more open and positive view about educating their children, particularly the girls who traditionally were not encouraged to pursue schooling. The following statement (loosely translated from Khmer) from one parent in Ta Mign Primary School represents this change in perspective about the value of education:

"People keep telling me education is good for my daughter, but what can education bring for my daughter in this village if almost everyone here is a farmer? And what’s wrong with my child working in the rice field? That piece of land is the only asset from my parents and grandparents’ inheritance. But now I understand; if my daughter does not go to school, she will be illiterate like me and my husband. If I send her to school, then maybe she can have this land AND also more land to pass on to her children..."