Two Teenage Sisters Recollect Their Lives As Child Servants
June 12, 2010, 9:19 am
Filed under: Social Issues

Two Teenage Sisters Recollect Their Lives As Child Servants

By Chea Kimsan and Chin Sopheak

             Under the heat from the sun in a vast paddy field, Reaksmei and her younger sister, Somaly, wearing red and white scarves around their heads and holding sickles in their hands, are harvesting rice, sweating profusely, behind their house in Leak Anloung village, Rolaing Chak commune, Somraong Torng district, Kompong Speu province. But they do not complain about this tiring work if compared to the hard work they used to do during their childhood.

            Sixteen-year-old Reaksmei, whose complexion is as slightly dark yellow as her younger sister, said she and her younger sister had been sent to work as child servants for many years by her mother during which she and her younger sister had also been tortured. Reaksmei said she had 6 brothers and sisters, but she and her younger sister were not lucky to warmly live with their parents, grandparents and other brothers and sisters as her mother sent her and her younger sister to work as child servants successively.

            Reaksmei further said that one day in the early 2007, her mother in connivance with one of her relatives who was a persuader had sent her to work in a house of wealthy people at Deum Kor market in Phnom Penh, thus prompting her to drop out of school at a time when she was studying grade 3 at Vor Sar primary school which is situated in another village next to the village she is living in.

            Reaksmei further said that, at that time, her mother did not tell her how much she had received and how many years she had had to serve the house owner and that her mother had only told her to live with the owner and her mother would sometimes come to visit her.

            Like other children who worked as child servants, Reaksmei said she had been forced to do all kinds of housework such as cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking rice and taking care of children from the morning till night and seven days a week without rest.

            Because of being unable to endure such hardships, Reaksmei was often tortured and insulted almost everyday since the first day she was hired.

            Reaksmei shed tears and sadly said: “The house owner pulled out my hair, slapped me on the face and hit my head with a broom … I shouted for help, but no one dared to help me!”

            In late 2007, an unfortunate thing happened to Reaksmei‘s family. Her father in the native village died of a mysterious disease. More sorrowfully still, Reaksmei said her house owner had not allowed her to go to attend her father’s funeral.

            Following her father’s death, the situation in the family became worse and worse while the debts gradually increased and Reasmei’s mother could not find any better solutions.

            In early 2008, Reasmei said her house owner moved to live at the Phsa Dei Hoy market and there was more housework to do because the other two helpers stopped working in that family. Knowing that, her mother intended to send her younger sister called Somaly, who was then living with other three younger brothers.

            Less than a week after her father’s death, Reasmei said that her mother brought her younger sister and said: “I need money to pay the debts. Now, you don’t have your father to work to support the family.”

            It was that time that Reasmei realized that her mother and the persuader had sold her and her younger sister for 1,700 US dollars and they had made a contract with thumbprints to get the money.

            After becoming a domestic servant like her elder sister, Somaly, who was just 12 years old at that time, had to live a new life that was even harder than getting hired to transplant rice seedlings.

            Somaly said with a sad look that she was at first determined to work hard and tried to be patient with the house owner’s blame and insults as she pitied her mother and her poor family. She said she hoped that when her mother saved enough money, she would come to take her and her elder sister back home. Unfortunately, what she thought was absolutely wrong.

            Somaly said that since her mother had sent her to work there for then 8 months, she had never seen her mother to go to visit her at a time when she was sustaining both mental and physical suffering due to frequent blame and insults and more severe punishment inflicted upon her and her elder sister by the house owner.

            Somaly further said during her work as a domestic servant, she had been beaten by the house owner by bumping her head against the wall, causing a bump on her head and her nose to bleed because they had accused her of stealing their money.

            She said she did not hope that her mother would come to take her back home. From then on, she persuaded her elder sister to secretly go back home, but her elder sister told her that they could not do that easily because she had tried to run away many times, but failed and she was tortured even more severely.

            However, Somaly still harbored the idea of running away due to being unable to live such a life as slave any longer.

            One day, a good opportunity arrived. The owner of the house took the entire family to hospital and it was when the two sisters had just got their joint “salary” of 10 US dollars from the house owner last evening.

            Somaly said that at about 6 o’clock in the morning, as soon as the house owner and the entire family had left the house for hospital, she and her elder sister snuck out through the back door and took a motor taxi toward Chaom Chao intersection. After paying 16,000 riel (about $4), they got on a taxi to go home by paying another 10,000 riel.

            After their one hour and a half travel which was fraught with fear and pleasure, Reasmei and Somaly arrived in their native village in Kompong Speu province.

            But, Somaly said that she and her elder sister did not dare to go to their house for fear that the house owner could find them and their mother would send them back. She said she and her elder sister had decided to go to the house of their grandparents to stay with them temporarily and they had told their grandparents about what had happened.

            Once their grandparents knew everything, they said that they felf very sad due to pitying their grandchildren. Without delay, the grandfather of Reasmei and Somaly said that he had gone to inform the communal authorities and asked them to help seek a solution and one day later, the communal authorities in co-operation with the local human rights officials came to conduct investigation and research.

            Mr. Aom SamAng, chief of Leak Anloung village, said among 107 families living in the village, many of them made their living as domestic helpers.

            However, the village chief said only Reasmei and Somaly had been sent to work as child servants by their mother in return for money.

            Mr. the village chief further said that this family was the poorest family in the village and also in continuous debts because the money they earned from being hired to transplant rice was just enough to fill their daily stomach no matter how hard they worked.

            Worse still, Mr. the village chief said that this family was surrounded by some kinds of illnesses which forced them to borrow other people’s money to pay for medical treatment, which caused their debts to be accrued, including the interest.

            Mr. Sam Ang stated the reason why the mother of Reasmei and Somaly had done that was probably because she had been in stalemate.

            There has not yet been any specific study about the real number of children working as child servants. Some studies were conducted only at big businesses and the houses where those children worked are private places.

            A report released by the US Ministry of Social Work in September 2009 noticed that there were four kinds of businesses using child labor such as brick kilns, shrimp farms, salt farms and rubber plantations.

            A study in 2007 jointly conducted by the human rights organization (Licado) and World Vision Fund estimated that there were about 21,000 children working in Phnom Penh, Kg. Cham, Battambang and Siem Reap. But, the real figures about the number of children could many times be higher than the above-said number.

            According to another joint study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and the International Labor Organization in 2003, nearly 28,000 children are working in Phnom Penh alone.

            According to a study conducted by IOM, about 51 per cent of the sex workers are former children who worked as child servants.

            Mr. Som Sokung, lawyer of the human rights defenders group in Cambodia, said it was illegal to trade children’s labor and to separate them from their families to work as child servants, which made them lose all their four rights such as the right to life, the right to participate, the right to develop and the right to receive protection.   

            Mr. Sokung further said such a human trafficking was one of the serious social problems which the government and the entire society had to jointly prevent and solve so that this problem would not fall into a more serious situation.

            But, before an effective solution could be found, maybe Reasmei and Somaly could not receive justice for the suffering they had sustained while many other children have still been tortured as child servants.

            Until now, Reasmei, Somaly and her brothers still live a lonely life because their mother has escaped. Some villagers said that their mother had escaped for fear that she would be arrested by the authorities and some said that their mother had eloped with her new husband when the persuader is living indifferently in the village as though she did not know about anything.


-Original report appeared in Reasmei Kampuchea, Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, Page A7




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[…] 28, 2010 VIA MCN: A study in 2007 jointly conducted by the human rights organization (Licado) and World Vision Fund […]

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