Thirteen-year-old Hanh Vin was scavenging for cans near the Olympic Stadium early on Tuesday morning when police arrived in a caged van to haul him away.
Dressed in a new school uniform, Vin, a slight and shy child, yesterday recalled the moment he knew he had been captured.
“When I saw the police I wanted to escape. But I just stopped and let them catch me because I was worried if I ran away they would find me,” Vin said.
“The police told me they wanted me to go with them to an NGO, but I didn’t want to go; I thought they were lying to me.”’
Vin’s “capture” came a day after a directive signed by Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Seng Ratanak was issued, ordering 12 district governors and the municipal social affairs department to remove homeless people from public areas.
Many of the homeless, beggars and street sellers targeted by the initiative hid to evade arrest.
Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), one of the partner NGOs charged with monitoring and educating those rounded up, took in 13 of the children swept up by the authorities on Tuesday.
Yesterday afternoon, only Vin remained at PSE’s sprawling centre in Meanchey district. The others were returned to their families yesterday morning.
“We just want to make sure that all kids have a proper place to stay; we don’t want to see kids with no care,” Ouk Sovan, PSE’s deputy program director, said.
Vin struggled to survive on the streets for three years after his father died and his mother abandoned him.
“The only job I could do was scavenge. Sometimes I would sleep in other people’s apartments,” he said.
When he arrived at PSE, Vin said he wanted to go back to the streets. But after one night in the centre, he said he is much happier there.
“I sleep better here and eat better here so I am happy.”
Vin, who attended school yesterday for the first time in more than five years, said he does not know what he wants to be when he grows up. But with PSE offering vocational training for aspiring mechanics, chefs, waitresses, hoteliers and more, he is not short of options.
Sovan said City Hall needs to improve its method of rounding people up, but stressed that the initiative was a work in progress.
“We need to find the best solution for everyone.… I will try to discuss with [City Hall] about finding a way to work together.”