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The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children

 
 

For children, the construction sites are an unlimited playground, a labyrinth of dark corridors, stairwells, and material that can be repurposed as toys.

But in reality, the countless high-rise construction sites in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh are dangerous, unregulated work environments where general laborers risk their lives for a few dollars per day.

These workers often move to the capital from their home provinces, living on the construction sites – future condominiums, apartments, and office buildings – until their completion.

They bring their families with them, kids of all ages in tow. Young teenagers are often set to work, while the younger children find ways to entertain themselves. Some, but not all, make it to school.

Those on the sites all day eventually shadow their parents, learning in their footsteps as they lay bricks or smooth cement. When the shadow game gets boring, mounds of sand to be used for concrete mixing become their sandboxes.

In a 2016 report, real estate firm CBRE estimates that Phnom Penh’s supply of condo units will see a massive jump of 806 percent by 2018 as the booming high-rise construction sector continues to grow.

But the International Labor Organization says occupational health and safety (OSH) standards on the sites are not keeping pace with the boom.

“Particularly serious weaknesses exist in the OSH framework for the construction sector,” the ILO notes in its 2016 to 2018 Decent Work Country Program for Cambodia. “No comprehensive prakas (ministerial regulations) cover typically dangerous work on high places.”

The report goes on to note that limited cooperation between relevant authorities, a lack of construction site inspections, and limited levels of comprehensive skills on the part of hired workers, exacerbate the problem.

“Reporting of accidents is irregular,” the report concludes. “Lack of support or opposition from [the] construction industry deters action.”

As I visited dozens of sites for this project, I saw kids playing on scaffolding, others crying after sharp debris lodged in their bare feet, and some holding their parent’s tools between use.

But most often, I found resilient children making the most of their surroundings and imaginations to keep smiles on their faces.

Alex Consiglio is a journalist based in Cambodia.

The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy climbs a bamboo ladder on an apartment construction site in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Doeum Kor commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A mother sleeps as her baby stares at her inside a nearly-finished apartment building in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tom Poung 1 commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy plays with a shovel while cement is delivered to a condominium under construction in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang 3 commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
Two friends play with their toys on a condominium construction site in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Basac commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy squats beside a pile of rubbish on an apartment construction site in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Svay Prey 2 commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A girl uses two discarded pieces of PVC tube as binoculars while playing on a high-rise construction project in Phnom Penh’s Veal Vong commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A family watches television during lunch break on a condominium construction site in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Basac commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy plays on his bicycle while his mother prepares lunch at an apartment building construction site in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Doeum Thkov commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy squashes a gecko with a flip-flop inside a nearly-finished apartment building in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tom Poung 1 commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
Children play on a pile of sand to be used for concrete mixing at a condominium under construction in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang 3 commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A young teenager recovers in Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital after losing his arm in an elevator crash on a Phnom Penh construction site in May 2015.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy rubs his eye while his father stands on bamboo scaffolding behind him yelling down to colleagues on the street at an apartment building under construction in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang 3 commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy watches two construction workers straighten lengths of coiled metal on an apartment building construction site in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Doeum Thkov commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A boy stands near the edge of a high-rise building under construction in Phnom Penh’s Ou Ruessei 4 commune as workers relax in hammocks while on break.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
The World of Cambodia's Construction Site Children
A father consoles his daughter after a piece of sharp debris lodged in her foot while she played on an apartment construction site in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Doeum Kor commune.
Image Credit: Alex Consiglio
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