In one of the poorest areas of Battambang, Cambodia’s second-largest city, nine out of ten children from poor families are involved in child labour. Widespread poverty here means that most parents cannot afford to send their children to school, and the meagre income that children can earn is necessary for their family’s survival.
As dawn rises over eight-year-old Botum’s small home, she and her younger brother Atith hastily dress in their school uniforms, pack their rucksacks and clamber on to their father’s motorcycle for the drive to school. Like most children in the region, Botum never expected to receive an education.
In this part of town, people with no fixed income rent a piece of land and build their houses of wooden boards and sheets of tin. There is no electricity, toilets or running water. Botum’s parents earn just $8 USD a day – barely enough to cover the essentials of life such as food, water and shelter, let alone provide for her education. But an SOS scholarship programme has enabled both children to attend school.
“I sell cakes on the market and earn maybe five dollars a day. My husband drives a motorcycle taxi and earns two or three dollars a day,” Botum’s mother Sok Eng told us. “The grants from SOS Children’s Villages are helping us send the children to school – and we are so happy about that. Otherwise, we would never have been able to afford it.”
The lack of access to education in Cambodia’s poorest communities has left more than one in five adults in the country illiterate and is making it almost impossible for children to escape generational poverty.
The scholarships offered by the SOS family strengthening programme in Battambang are giving dozens of children the chance to get a free education at a local SOS-run school, and supplying school uniforms and shoes, books, pencils and study materials.
We are also providing nutritious school lunches for children from impoverished families to reduce child-malnutrition in the region and ensure children can concentrate on their studies. One in six people in Cambodia are undernourished and almost one third of children under five have had their physical and cognitive development stunted, often permanently, as a result.
Feeding children at school is also helping to reduce poverty in the community, as parents no longer need to leave work to go home and prepare their children’s lunch.
“We lost money,” Sok Eng explains. “Now that we don’t have to interrupt our work every day we can earn more for the family.”
The school principle, Chin Bora has seen a big difference in the children’s attention span as a result of the food programme. “Families can increase their income, parents can rest assured that their children are having a healthy meal – perhaps the only one that day – and the children can thrive and develop better,” she says.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 152 million children worldwide are involved in child labour. Many are working in dangerous occupations that put them at risk of abuse, ill-health or fatal accidents.
Child labour and the poverty cycle are deeply intertwined. Families in poverty are often forced to send their children to work instead of school. This in turn makes them more likely to remain in low-paying work as adults, making it difficult for them to support their own families. It also means that girls may marry and have children at a young age.
Our family strengthening programmes worldwide are connecting parents with income-generating opportunities so they can afford to send their children to school, not work. We also run 450 schools and training centres around the world which offer children and young adults the chance to improve their life-chances.
You can help us offer children a better start in life by making a donation or sponsoring a child today.
This story was taken from our supporter magazine, Family Matters.
Children’s names have been changed to protect their identities.