Cambodia: Child Labour, School Attendance and Homer J Simpson

Posted on by Lord Playboy


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A week or so ago, a fresh faced, cheerful and optimistic young woman was found sitting in my office [no, do not ask me why, I had no idea why]

It seems that one of those very well known International NGOs had given her a big wedge of cash to do a study on factors affecting children’s education in Cambodia.

As per the norm, I was not entirely sure why she was talking to me – education, fish; education, fish. Did I miss a memorandum somewhere?

But she had a nice smile and I was feeling somewhat charitable – that is to say, I was hung-over and did not really feel like reading my monthly report on fish exports to Burma.

So she starts off by telling me about her credentials – 26 years old, graduate in Development Studies, working on a paper for her Masters Degree – in Development Studies – Australian.

She wanted to look at the constraints for the children of poor fishermen to study in Cambodia. Ah, so 20 minutes in I guess we know now why she is talking to me – just.

This well known International NGO was funding her research, her 3 month stay, expenses, et cetera.

The title of her paper is:

‘Does child labour and exploitation affect school attendance amongst rural Cambodia?s poor?

Excusing myself from the meeting for a moment, I wander out to the car park and find a handy coconut tree to repeatedly bang my head against.

This is exactly the kind of self-serving academic exercise that drives me completely and uttering insane, it compels me to start frothing at the mouth and sets me off on one of my increasingly long, and decreasingly erudite, rants.

‘Does child labour and exploitation affect school attendance amongst rural Cambodia’s poor?’

Homer Bloody Simpson could answer this question:

”well, doh”

Of course it affects school attendance, if little Miss Polly Pot (aged 7 ?) is peeling shrimps in the Kampot equivalent of a fishy sweatshop then she is not studying algebra, or whatever the hell it is that children of 7 ? years of age are supposed to be studying.

That part is not rocket science, answering the ‘does it have any effect’ part of the problem does not need a US$125,000 junket to Cambodia, hotel expenses and another report being written.

And before my usual critics and detractors start off on one as well, that is a hard number, not one that I made up out of the air, US$125,000 to answer a question that an amusing, fictitious, cartoon moron could answer.

To my mind, it is the next part of the question we need to be answered.

‘How do we raise the average economic standard so that people do not need to send their children to work as well?’

Cambodia is not a country populated by multiple clones of Fagin, earning themselves a comfortable lifestyle of the sweat of children; it is a country full of poor and very poor families where everybody in the family unit does what they can just in order to keep a semi-dry roof over their heads and some rice on the table.

And yes, yes, yes. I know that this area is being studied as well. In fact, that is also one of my complaints. Millions of dollars have been spent on studying this sort of thing over the last decade. Millions more in other Countries as well; just in case we need to reinvent the wheel for every one of those impoverished Countries. An entire forest gives up its life every year, just to produce enough paper to answer this academic thirst for periphrasis report writing.

So please, please, pretty please, with sugar on top. Can we stop writing reports about the bleeding obvious and actually start working on the problem ?

Or can the professional hand-wringers of the 4×4 driving, lentil-polishing, muesli weaving, bean flicking community only write reports? Can they not actually, you know, do some real work??

Honestly, it is enough to make a gecko laugh.

Lord Playboy

The views in this column are entirely those of Lord Playboy (of Phnom Penh, Sonteipheap and that muddy patch of ground next to the school;) they are in no way are representative of Khmer440, its editors, staff or its corn-fed gimp in the cellar ,of any Ministry of the Royal Government of Cambodia that employs Lord Playboy, of westerners who are scared to ride motorbikes, of coach loads of French film makers and equipment that block off whole roads near P’Sar BKK without so much as a ‘by your leave’, of anyone who panics in bar because their milkshake turns up with ice in it and the Lonely Planet has told them to beware of the ice. Damn, things will be different when I am running the Country.

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