Cambodia ranks among the least populated Asian nations with an estimated 1987 population of only about 6.3 million to 6.4 million. Its density of approximately 36 persons per square kilometer is about one-fifth of Vietnam's population density of 187 persons per square kilometer. The First Plan set the population growth rate at 2.8 percent per year, up from the average annual growth rate of 2.3 percent for the 1978 to 1985 period.
In 1987 observers estimated that about 34.5 percent of the population was under 15 years of age and that 3 percent was 62.5 or older. An estimated 63 percent of the population (or about 4 million people) were between the ages of 15 and 64. The economically active segment of the population, the work force, was probably around 3 million people, or 46 percent of the total population. This estimated percentage of the labor force remained relatively constant from 1962--when the census showed a work force of 2.5 million people out of a total population of 5.73 million--until the 1980s.
In 1983 all public-sector employees, including state employees, armed forces personnel, industrial workers, artisans, teachers, and party cadres, accounted for approximately 8 percent of an economically active population of between 2.5 million and 3 million. Approximately 80 percent of the work force was engaged in agriculture, in forestry, and in fishing.
A critical shortage of qualified and professional personnel emerged as technicians, engineers, skilled workers, and trained managers either fled the country or fell victim to executions under the Pol Pot regime. In 1980 the Ministry of Agriculture had only 200 technicians, down from a total of 1,600 in 1975.
Moreover, the continuing conflict diverted part of the work force to combat zones or to security-related projects. In March 1984, the government initiated a forced-labor program, employing civilians in "national defense work" to seal the 830 kilometers of frontier with Thailand. This project, code-named K-5, diverted from the labor force a number of conscripts (aged 18 to 45) ranging from 25,000 to 30,000 for each province, or as high as 3,000 for each district of Cambodia. The labor shortage constituted a major impediment to economic progress, a point stressed by Heng Samrin at the Fifth Party Congress when he said that "Labor...is scattered at present in order to face the needs of the struggle," adding that the "lack of qualified labor and specialized cadres...has prevented us from ensuring that current works satisfy the requirements for development."
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