TEN-year-old Srey Ny can't hide the pain she feels as she bends her right leg sharply
behind her knee before tightly binding it with three thick rubber bands.
Pulling a pair of pants over her bound limb, Ny is ready for another day's work sliding
along the ground around Pochentong Market, marketing a fake disability in the hopes
of increasing her earnings as a beggar.
Two weeks ago, Ny left school and became the breadwinner of her family of six, following
the lead of numerous other children in the fly-blown squatter community of Po Pros
near Pochentong railway station who fake disabilties and beg for a living.
"One day a taxi passenger at Psah Deum Kor asked me what was wrong with my leg,"
Ny says of why she does what she does. "When I told him I was a polio victim,
he gave me 5000 riel."
Ny learned the benefits of faking a disability from her 12- year-old neighbor, Nan
Syvann, who began binding her left leg "several months ago" to work the
crowds at Phnom Penh's Samaki market.
"Originally I begged walking around, and earned a few hundred riels [each day],"
Syvann explained. "I started to tie my leg a few months ago so that I could
earn more money."
In spite of such success, the long hours Ny and Syvann must stand for each day with
one limb twisted in an unnatural position is already causing muscle deterioration
in their bound limbs
"I'm really worried because my leg seems not to have any feeling ... [sometimes]
it's really painful," Ny said.
Helen Pitt, Executive Director of the Disability Action Council (DAC), says the appearance
of children twisting their limbs to boost their earnings as beggars is a new phenomenon
"I've certainly not heard of that in Cambodia before," Pitt said. "It's
an activity that may show either the desperation produced by poverty or a practice
of unscrupulous people to gain money."
Pitt said if Ny and Syvann really are victims of financial necessity, the DAC could
act to "provide support needed to stop this practice".
But Syvann's father, Chan Sophal, a former Funcinpec fighter who lost a leg to a
land mine in 1987 and has himself been a beggar since 1998, has little hope for his
"We have no money, [so] I let her tie her leg," Sophal said. "Let
destiny decide our lives."