Backbreaking labour: Srey's story

Feb 26, 2015
10-Minute Read
13-year-old Srey Neang packs bricks daily for money.

In Cambodia a girl packs clay bricks in a wall formation in the hot sun
​​Srey packs 4000 heavy bricks onto a truck every single day. Photo: David Tsigoulis/World Vision.​​

“I want to be a teacher. I think I can make it,” Srey Neang says with confidence.
The 13-year-old lives and works in a Cambodian brick factory with her parents and four sib​lings. In fact, she spends more time working than she does in school, making her dream of becoming a teacher seem like an unlikely reality.

What is worse is that Srey’s mother is considering pulling her out of school this year, “Her tuition is too much and I don’t have the money. If she stays here [in the factory], she can make more money,” Mao, 48, says.

Srey’s days are extremely busy. First thing in the morning she prepares meals for her younger siblings, tidies up the house and then heads off to school. After her classes are over, she doesn’t go home for a snack or to play. Rather, she cooks dinner and does more housecleaning and then heads over to the brick factory — the family lives on the factory compound — to help her mother. Srey’s job is to load the heavy bricks onto the trucks for delivery. It’s backbreaking labour, work not meant for a 13-year-old girl.

Once it’s dark outside, most children Srey’s age would be changing into their pajamas and getting ready for bed. But not Srey.

“I shower my siblings. After that I study and do my homework.”

It sounds exhausting.

“Yes, I fall asleep quickly at night,” Srey confirms.

Worldwide, there are 168 million child labourers; 85 million of them—including Srey—are involved in the worst forms of child labour, like manufacturing.

Her small body is forced to work beyond its capacity. She is surrounded by dust, dirt, ash and smoke from the brick factory. She lives in cramped living quarters with her entire family. As a result, Srey is often sick and weak.
Mao, Srey’s mother, wipes away at a constant stream of tears as she speaks about her family’s difficult circumstances. It’s obvious that her heart breaks for her children. But without their jobs at the brick factory — for which they earn only $2 a day — they would have nothing. Not even shelter.

Without help, Srey and her siblings will all be subjected to a harsh fate: a life working in the brick factory with little or no respite.
One of the best ways that Canadians can help keep children like Srey in school and away from exploitation is through child sponsorship​. With sponsorship, kids and their communities have the essentials they need. This means that families don’t have to resort to extreme measures to generate income, including placing their children in dirty, dangerous and degrading situations. ​​​​​​​
A cambodian girl holds a couple of clay bricks and stands in a doorway looking somber
Srey packs 4000 heavy bricks onto a truck every single day. Photo: David Tsigoulis/World Vision.