Across the border: Cambodian migrant children in Thailand | By Daniel Won

In a response to many Thais’ accusation of illegal migrant workers for ‘stealing jobs, spreading diseases, being ungrateful, and committing crimes’, Thailand Immigration Bureau initiated a large-scale crackdown on September 9th, earlier this month. However,
despite the effort, many migrants still choose to enter Thailand illegally in order to avoid costs of the permit and long wait times, while many also hire traffickers. It is reported that “there are more than 536,000 Cambodians working in Thailand” and that some experts estimate it to be “closer to one million”.

Among these migrant workers, however, a significant number of them are child migrants. Unfortunately, these child migrants are vulnerable to child labor, prostitution, working and living on streets, and do not receive an adequate education, which is part of their  basic human rights.

Education in Cambodia

Cambodian schools face the problems of vanishing students as students migrate to Thailand, especially along the border. Education in Cambodia is costly at nearly $300 for a year, and poverty and higher paying jobs in Thailand attract families and students to migrate.

UNESCO reports that potential income of about $68 million is lost annually due to students’ incompletion of primary and secondary education. Therefore, Cambodian Education Minister, Hang Chuon Naron, shows concern about the ‘loss of human resources’ and hopes to help students through the ministry’s job counseling program.

If Cambodia wants to increase its economic capacity by harnessing the human capital of its students, the government should consider increasing education spending to provide free education and more resources to find better employment.

Education in Thailand

Statistics show that only 41% of child migrants attend schools in Thailand and the attendance rate drops drastically after primary school. Thai schools do not provide accommodations for child migrants, and it results in children with a language and cultural barrier, unable to keep up with the curriculum and school tasks. Moreover, costs of materials, uniforms, transportation, fear of deportation, and Thai parents’ objection against child migrants also inhibit them from attending schools.


Migrant Children at School

If it is not Thai school, child migrants can attend migrant learning centers. However, these centers are not operated by the government and do not have the accreditation. Therefore, even if students complete the program, their certificates are not recognized by official Thai school, nor schools in their home-country, rendering them useless in the job market or acquisition of further education.

However, considering benefits such as social cohesion, higher tax revenue, lower public spending on the detention of migrants, as well as increased productivity of child migrants in the future, the Thai government should incorporate more favorable rules and conditions for child migrant education.

Cambodian students face educational challenges both in Cambodia and Thailand, either due to the high cost or being migrants. However, it is both governments’ best interests to increase educational opportunities for these children because its long-term benefits far exceed what the governments might spend today.



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