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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Child beggars to be banned from Angkor

Child beggars to be banned from Angkor

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child.jpg

Apsara Authority officials have begun a series of meetings with relevant ministries

and authorities in an effort to limit and control all child beggars and souvenir

vendors at the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park and in Siem Reap town, as they have

become bothersome to tourists and problematic for police.

A young girl makes paintings to sell to tourists inside the entrance to Angkor Wat. The Apsara Authority says child vendors are a problem for both police and tourists and will soon ban them from the temples.

But children panhandling and selling in these areas claim that authorities have always

allowed them to work in restricted areas provided they pay bribes to police and officials

from the Apsara Authority, the body that oversees the temple complex.

A high-ranking official from the Apsara Authority, who declined to be named, told

the Post that sellers in the temple areas are a constant problem for police. He maintained

that Apsara Authority officials have never received any "bribes or money"

from the sellers, the beggars or their parents.

"Tourists want to enjoy the beautiful scenery in silence and the behavior of

many of these book sellers is impolite and annoying to tourists," he said. "To

keep this under control Apsara needs the cooperation of tourist police and heritage

police."

The official likened previous attempts to clear sellers and beggars from the park

to clearing a local water weed known as "chok" or water coconut. He said

you can push it to the side but it just floats right back to the middle behind your

back.

An approach is planned that will include input from authorities, the private sector

and the sellers themselves in an effort to stop children from approaching and surrounding

tourists. The plan involves restricting sellers to certain areas where tourists can

approach them to purchase goods if they wish.

Sebastien Marot, international coordinator for Friends International estimates there

are between 1,000 to 1,500 children selling or begging in Siem Reap and the temple

area. According to Marot these children can make up to $300 per month compared to

an average wage of $35 for a civil servant.

"If you've got a kid making $300 and you make $30 a lot of people are tempted

to take a cut," Marot said.

Siem Reap District Police Chief Phoeung Chendarith, who oversees downtown Siem Reap,

confirms that vendors "are trouble" for local police.

"In principle we do not allow any children to sell books or postcards or to

beg money from foreigners," Chendarith said. "It is an immoral thing that

these kids surround foreigners to beg and sell."

Chendarith likened the children to beer girls and said they should be at home rather

than selling in the streets. If tourists don't buy their products they can become

rude and insulting towards them, he said.

For Savin, hawking tourist books means he can afford to go to school each morning.

"Everyday at 11 am we take a tuk-tuk to town and I sing everyday with my friends,"

Savin said.

"We have fun and play games. Maybe at 5 pm or 6 pm we go home, sometimes 7 pm,

if we don't make enough money. But each month we must pay $5 to police [otherwise]

they catch us and we cannot sell books."

The director of an orphanage, who did not wish to be named, claimed that within the

Angkor Park the fees are much higher. His orphanage survives on funding raised by

the children soliciting tourist donations in the World Heritage Site. He told the

Post that to sell or beg at a certain temple you must first ask the Apsara chief

for that area. A price of between $2 to $5 per day is negotiated. An arrangement

must also be reached with the heritage police.

"When the police see the children they ask for money - usually $1 to $5 depending

on how much money the children have made that day," the orphanage director said.

"If they do not pay, the police will tell the Apsara chief and they will not

be allowed to sell there anymore."

Tourist police also monitor the temple area.

"Sometimes they ask children to buy them phone cards or other things,"

he said, "but only about one time each week."

"I used to sell at Angkor Wat," said 14-year-old Srey Peng who has been

selling books to tourists for four years. "But now I sell at the market because

at the temples the police come all the time to take money from us."

But Marot, who is now working with the provincial authorities to find ways of getting

impoverished children off the streets, believes that authorities are seeking long-term

solutions.

"At policy level there is a real desire to do the right thing," Marot said.

"There are some very good police officers in Siem Reap, but, like in any situation

where money is involved, you do get people that will try to exploit that."According

to Marot, market managers, stall holders and particularly parents- some of whom "sit

at home drinking and gambling while their children earn the family income"-

are also exploiting the appeal children have to tourists.

David Harding, technical assistant for Friends International, said the biggest problem

with children earning such substantial sums in an unmonitored environment is that

the income is not sustainable. "These kids don't stay cute forever and their

income is reliant on their cuteness," Harding said. "When they get older

the only way to keep up that earning capacity is through the sex industry."

Harding explained that working on the streets everyday alienates children from their

own communities. They may be able to communicate in five languages, he said, but

many of them do not attend public schools. Harding added that some children's interaction

with foreigners is becoming increasingly inappropriate, and at times suggests a path

towards prostitution.

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