Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Child Domestic workers and Patterns of Trafficking in Cambodia

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Child Domestic workers and Patterns of Trafficking in Cambodia

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Child Domestic workers and Patterns of Trafficking in Cambodia

This study was conducted in three provinces on Cambodia – Koh Kong, Kampong Som, and Siem Reap. The research aim for the project was to map the process and mechanisms of trafficking within Cambodia for two target groups, Commercially Sexually Exploited Women and Girls (CSEWGs) and child domestic workers (CDWs). Specifically, the research objectives sought to understand how the ‘pull’ factors in different provinces lead to migration and trafficking. It also sought to understand how process of migration could constitute trafficking.

Trafficking was defined using the UN’s Palermo Protocol. The research looked at specific indicators of trafficking, including; recruitment, levels of deception involved in recruitment, the use of recruiters and paths of migration, levels of payment and debt, freedom of movement, age of entry into domestic work, work hours and patterns of abuse in the work location. Household owners who employed domestic workers were also interviewed on their methods of recruitment, but the research also sought to assess levels of demand for underage workers, as well as attitudes that could support trafficking related practices, including those towards punishment and forced labour.

In terms of socio-demographic profile, it was found that the vast majority of CDWs are female (89%). Strong gender norms mean that girls were overwhelmingly chosen for household based tasks. The majority of these workers (76%) were found to be currently above the minimum working age of 15 years, with the average being 15.5. years. However, 24% of CDWs were underage at the time of interview, and the average age of starting work is 14.5 years. When looking at age of entry, the proportion of those underage rises to 38%. The level of education of CDWs was low, and they often came from a dysfunctional family background, with problems such as divorce and domestic violence. 58% of CDWs reported that their families are in debt. CDWs predominantly come from rural areas.

CDWs are thus most often rural to urban migrants. The key decision makers in this pattern of migration are often the child’s parents, with little evidence that the children are consulted prior to their entry into domestic work. The paths of migration are highly influenced by fears of trafficking, and often occur through the house owners’ links to specific rural communities where they are known and trusted. Both house owners and CDWs and their families appeared to prefer the use of kinship networks to find work, and a sizeable proportion (42%) were related to the house owner.

Relationship to the house owner was found to be pivotal in explaining certain variances. For instance, in recruitment, relatives were less likely to be told that they would be working as domestic workers, and were less likely to be promised a salary. This could be due to the perceived low social status of domestic workers. Relatives were reluctant to refer to each other in this demeaning way, though they may have been actively recruited to fulfill this social role.

CDWs were found to be highly mobile, with 39% having previously worked as a domestic worker, and the average length of time in their previous domestic work posting being only 10.2 months. This was explained by homesickness, seasonal demands on their labour in the agricultural economy, as well as experiences of abuse by previous employers. The working conditions of CDWs were also found to be very harsh, as they worked for an average of 13.5 hours per day. Again, this varied by relationship with the house owner, as non-relatives worked harder, at an average of 15.7 hours per day. Despite this, house owners often expressed the opinion that the work performed was ‘easy’, and the definition of domestic work as not being ‘work’ was found to be important to facilitating this labour exploitation.

In terms of payments and benefits, only 64% of CDWs are paid for the work that they do every day. This was partly explained by patterns of recruitment into the household and by relationship to the house owner – relatives were much less likely to be paid. However, it can be seen from the table below that 18% of the CDWs were not paid and were not related to the house owner, and this group is arguably exploited on the basis that they are perceived to have very few options and little social support, and are therefore willing to work for few benefits, such as food and shelter.

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