BANGKOK - Seven-year-old Nan Kung from Battambang, Cambodia, need at least a rudimentary education.
In a makeshift classroom at a Bangkok construction site, she tells visitors she likes coloring, learning the alphabet and practicing washing her hands.
Adjacent to this open-air space, several hundred workers are building 319 luxury homes.
With Thailand's very low unemployment rate, builders and contractors are dependent on migrant laborers, some of whom insist on bringing along their spouses — some of whom are themselves put to work.View full gallery
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor, but now some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries.
“It's very common in construction sites whereby we can see lots of kids running around and not doing anything productive," said Srettha Thavisin, president Sansiri PCL. "Sometimes it's even worse. Sometimes [there is use of] child labor to build houses and things like that.”
Previously the Sansiri corporation, like many builders in the developing world, looked the other way regarding children at construction sites.
President Srettha Thavisin, said all of Sansiri’s contractors now sign a clause acknowledging they can be terminated if they are found to be employing anyone under the age of 15.
“We need to be able to educate our staff that in addition to making houses, making condos, delivering houses to the consumers, it's our duty as citizens of Thailand to contribute back to society," stated Thavisin. "And this is a particular cause in which we believe in.”
As part of its social change initiative, Sansiri is also operating, in collaboration with the contractors and UNICEF, safe spaces for children at each project site.
“Having a place like this they can be more productive in their work and it's also a peace of mind while they're working. They know that the children are safe and away from harm,” Juat stated.
That is a relief for Nan’s mother.
“Before they had this center I used to bring my child to where we were doing the construction. But now I’m really happy my daughter can stay here. It’s safe,” said mother, Nee Kung.
Construction worker Ma Moe from Pyay District, Pego Division in Myanmar has a bachelor’s degree in history. Despite her education, she said the best way to provide for her son, Sun Linn Htet, is for her and her husband to build homes and offices in Thailand.
“At previous construction sites, making daily wages, we couldn’t send our son to school," she said. "He is a bright kid, he remembers everything he learns here. So that is why I am elated he can have this kind of educational experience here.”
But the boy’s education, informal as it is, is likely to be interrupted. When the family moves on to the next project site, it likely will not have similar safe spaces for children.