Damnok Toek has operated in the border town of Poipet, Banteay Meanchey, for a decade as street children have multiplied, along with the difficulty of weaning them from illicit activity
Photo by: Holly pham
A view of traffic at the Poipet border crossing on July 9 (left). Children at the Damnok Toek drop-in centre, which has been operating in the border town for the past 10 years.
The night group consists of homeless and parentless [kids] who sleep around the markets...
BANTEAY MEANCHEY PROVINCE
SINCE the drop-in centre Damnok Toek opened in Poipet 10 years ago, its staffers have observed a marked increase in the number of street children migrating to the border town, a population they say can be divided into two groups: those who wander the streets by day, and those who do so by night.
"The day kids are mostly ones whose parents travel to Thailand for business from dawn until dusk," said Yann Sam, a project coordinator at the centre. "The night group consists of homeless and parentless ones who sleep around the markets or in the casino area."
He added: "It's a lot more difficult to reach out to the ones that come at night. Most of them sniff glue or use drugs, and a lot of them are under 'Big Brother' management."
The term "'Big Brother' management", he said, was a reference to the gang networks to which many of the street children in Poipet belong. In most cases, he said, children turn over up to half of what they earn each day to their respective gangs in exchange for protection, food and drugs.
Yann Sam said there were roughly 850 Cambodian street children operating in and around Poipet. Other NGOs and local authorities said that figure was impossible to verify, particularly given the porous nature of the border crossing between Poipet and Aranyaprathet, Thailand.
An estimated 200 to 300 Cambodian street children cross the border to work illegally in Thailand every day, Yann Sam said.
Sou Malai, representative director at Damnok Toek, said the increase in street children in Poipet had slowed in recent years, though he said outreach to the population had become even more difficult because gang ties had intensified.
"It's still very difficult to reach out to all of the street children because many of them are under gang protections," he said. "It's not easy bringing them to the centre."
Damnok Toek operates three different facilities in Poipet: a daycare near the town centre, a drop-in centre 100 metres away from the border and a rehabilitation centre roughly 7 kilometers outside Poipet.
Staff at the daycare centre are in some cases able to establish good relationships with the parents of the children who take advantage of its programming, which includes basic education - in the form of Khmer and math lessons - and games.
Ven Veasna, a social worker at the centre, said the programme there generally lasts from 7am to 11pm, adding that children are free to stay at the centre for as long as they want within that window of time.
Though the numbers vary, the centre attracts on average about 50 kids aged between 4 and 15 years during the day, Yann Sam said.
In contrast, only between eight and 10 children stay at the drop-in centre each night, a fact that he and other NGO workers in Poipet attributed to the nighttime lure of drug use, drawing children away from the centre and into the street.
At the moment, Damnok Toek does not have any expansion plans that would require the construction of additional centres.
But Sou Malai said the group had recently formed a partnership with the Poipet Transit Centre, a re-education centre run by the Ministry of Social Affairs that specialises in serving trafficked women and children.