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Homeless adolescents seen on the grounds of the notorious Prey Speu detention centre after being rounded up by authorities.
Homeless adolescents seen on the grounds of the notorious Prey Speu detention centre after being rounded up by authorities. Hong Menea

Survey counts homeless youth

Cambodia’s seven largest urban centres are home to nearly 2,700 homeless adolescents who face numerous health and education-related obstacles, according to a new study by the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics, Columbia University and Friends International.

The study is the first in Cambodia to use two simultaneous head counts, a research method known as capture-recapture, which is thought to produce more accurate estimates of homeless populations.

“Findings suggest the number of homeless adolescents in Cambodia is much greater than one would expect if relying on single count data alone and that this population faces many hardships,” the study’s authors concluded.

Young people were included in the study if they were between the ages of 13 and 17 and lived on the street, in emergency shelters or in public places, including the many construction sites erected in the Kingdom’s cities. Some were also included if their dwellings provided inadequate protection from the elements, such as a building with two or more walls made from plastic tarps.

Of the homeless adolescents counted, about 64 percent were male. Almost all of the respondents said they had at least one parent alive, and around 84 percent claimed their parents are their primary caregivers. Half of the respondents said they attend school every day, but only a third were able to read simple sentences.

According to the study’s authors, people who face homelessness in their youth are likely to experience “toxic stress” that will impede their physical, intellectual and emotional development throughout adulthood. That’s why holistic and sustainable solutions must be employed to address the numerous obstacles homeless youth face, said Friends International’s James Sutherland.

“You must … provide pathways to a sustainable future away from the streets, through education and training for employment, reintegration with family if possible, or support for independent living,” Sutherland wrote in an email.

Friends International is collaborating with the Ministry of Social Affairs and about 40 other non-profits to launch initiatives that aim to break the cycle of poverty, he added.

But some suggest the problem is getting worse. According to Vanny Em of Choice Cambodia, a non-profit that works with homeless populations, people are being driven out of their homes by the rising price of real estate.

“They are leaving their homes because they can’t afford them, so they set up huts on state-owned land,” Em said. “Homelessness is definitely getting worse.”

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