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Hun Sen the ‘Godfather’

Among the ruling Cambodian People Party’s more curious charitable programs is the policy of honouring triplets as honorary “godchildren” of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In practice, this means that each family with triplets is entitled to three million riel (about $750), two boxes of formula, 200kg of rice, 5kg of sugar, two sarongs and two kramas.  “We gave gifts to triplets’ families because we know that they don’t have anything to feed the babies with, so Prime Minister Hun Sen felt pity on those families,” said Seng Tieng, the prime ministerial adviser responsible for managing the program. A total of 267 families have been helped since the program started in 1999, he added.

The practice goes back to at least 1996, when a Kandal woman reported that Hun Sen offered her $165 and offered to “adopt” her triplets. In 2012, local media reported that a mother of 10 from Koh Kong had not received her triplet package, though Sieng at the time said the reports were untrue.

The Khmer term for godfather, ovpok chong cheam, can either refer to the benefactor of poor children or their adoptive parents. As Hun Sen gets older, Tieng said he is now referred to as the triplets’ lok ta chong cheam, or “god-grandfather”.

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